Miller Cohen Attorneys, Keith D. Flynn and Adam M. Taub, were successful in obtaining a jury verdict in a Family Medical Leave Act case involving a Wayne County Sheriff’s officer. A jury in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan found in favor of a former officer with the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department after he was terminated for taking leave covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). The jury found that Wayne County’s conduct interfered with the officer’s rights under the FMLA. Federal Court Judge Gershwin Drain entered Judgment in the case awarding the Plaintiff $326,391.59 in back-pay, attorneys’ fees, costs, and prejudgment interest. Judge Drain also ordered that the Defendant pay post-judgment interest as well.
In the fall of 2013, the officer was under tremendous personal and professional stress. This resulted in him experiencing chest pain, losing his hair, being unable to sleep, losing his appetite, and becoming short-tempered. He would sleep no more than three to four hours a night, every night and would often skip meals and eat no more than one meal a day. He would vomit multiple times per week and would have nightly spells where he felt dizzy and light-headed due to his anxiety. His symptoms would get progressively worse throughout the day.
Due to his symptoms, the officer sought treatment from his doctor who prescribed medication and restricted him to working no more than eight hours per day. Wayne County, however, has a policy of requiring its officers to work overtime as needed. Due to a severe staffing shortage, the officer was asked to work back-to-back to shifts on a nearly nightly basis. As this request conflicted with his medical restrictions, the officer refused to work the second shift.
Even though the officer had submitted the doctor’s note stating the work restriction, his diagnosis, that he was on medication, and that he was under continuing care of his doctor, Wayne County continued to discipline the officer for refusing to work overtime. This resulted in the officer being suspended multiple times, and eventually, Wayne County terminated his employment.
Because the officer should have been offered a reduced leave schedule under the FMLA, the jury found Wayne County interfered with the officer’s rights under the FMLA.
The FMLA protects workers who require leave for a serious health condition for themselves or an immediate family member. This law applies to employees who work for an employer with at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius of the work place, who have been employed with their employer for at least one year, and who have worked at least 1,250 hours in the year preceding the request for leave. The Act entitles employees to 12 weeks of leave for a 12-month period. The leave can be continuous (three or more days of continuous absence), intermittent, or a reduced leave schedule (restricting an employee’s work schedule).
This decision is important not only to the officer but also sets a strong precedent supporting the intent of the FMLA, which is to protect workers’ jobs when they are sick or injured.
Workers need to know their rights regarding medical leave. If you think your rights may have been violated, contact a Miller Cohen attorney at 313-964-4454 or visit our website at /Employment-Law/FMLA.shtml.