Current Employment Practice Decisions
 Jan. 28, 2011

Employers Definitely Do NOT Want to End up in a Jury Trial: Fired Cancer Patient wins $8.1 million from Michaels Stores

In a case brought under both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the FMLA, a federal jury on September 9, 2010, awarded a Michaels Stores manager $8.1 million. She claimed her employer repeatedly criticized her work performance and then fired her while she was undergoing cancer treatments. She testified that she was forced to work while undergoing chemotherapy, was harassed for taking time off, and was wrongfully accused of stealing from the arts and crafts store. She claimed that she was pressured to return to work early during a six-week medical leave (which was only half of the FMLA to which she was entitled) because she was expected to fix the high-volume store's failing operations. Within days after her mastectomy, the District Manager began calling her demanding a specific date when she was coming back. She convinced the jurors that she returned to work early because she feared for her job.

After a five-day trial, jurors deliberated for about five hours over two days before awarding her $4 million for pain and suffering, $4 million for punitive damages and $100,000 for lost wages. In an unusual move, the trial judge reserved the right to increase the award for lost wages up to $1 million, proving that blatant violations of leave laws can provoke seasoned jurists.

Verizon Settles California Class Action Challenging Medical Leave Policies

On December 1, 2010, the California DFEH announced that Verizon will pay up to $6,011,190 to current and former California employees to settle a class action lawsuit challenging the company's family medical leave practices.

The lawsuit alleges that from 2007 to 2010, Verizon denied or failed to timely approve class members' requests for leave for their own serious health condition, to care for a family member with a serious health condition, or to bond with a new child. Part of the challenge was based on the company’s failure to provide the consecutive leave for pregnancy disability and then baby bonding, which is a requirement unique to California. The DFEH further alleged that the company fired some class members for violating Verizon's attendance policy when they missed work for a CFRA-qualifying reason.

As an integral part of the settlement, Verizon agreed to review and revise its leave policies and procedures and to train all California officers, managers, supervisors and human resources personnel on the procedures.

by Patricia S. Eyres, Attorney at Law Employment Law Partner, Stuart Baron & Associates, LLP

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