Employer that failed to refute FMLA and overtime claims ordered to pay discharged worker over $70K

An employer failed to refute a dispatcher’s claims that she was denied overtime pay, discouraged from taking leave to undergo eye surgery, and fired in retaliation for asserting her FMLA rights. Granting the employer’s motion for summary judgment on her FLSA and FMLA claims, a federal court in Florida awarded her $70,222 in damages, broken down as follows: $2,549.25 in unpaid overtime plus an equal amount in liquidated damages, and two-years lost wages of $32,561.75 plus liquidated damages in the same amount.

Only paid for 40 hours, even though worked more.

For several years, the employee worked as a dispatcher for the Southeastern Florida Transportation Group. She earned an average of $10 per hour and was regularly scheduled to work 40 hours per week. However, she claimed that while she was always paid for just 40 hours per period, she actually worked 45.15 hours for 33 weeks. Since her employer failed to pay her overtime wages, she claimed she was owed $2,549.25.

In late April 2012, the employee gave reasonable notice that she was going to need to take FMLA leave for eye surgery and recovery. She claimed that her employer did not approve or deny the request, but instead simply ignored it. Furthermore, her supervisor purportedly made remarks indicating that her job would be in jeopardy while she was out on leave. She was terminated at the end of May and remained unemployed for approximately two years, resulting in lost wages of $32,561.75.

Overtime claim.

The employee was entitled to summary judgment on her FLSA overtime claim. Notably, since the employer failed to respond to her request for admissions, the court deemed her factual matters in the request to be admitted. Therefore, based on her affidavit and the employer’s admissions, there was substantial evidence showing the amount of time she spent working overtime and that her employer knew of the overtime work. And because the employer didn’t present any evidence to rebut her affidavit, the unopposed evidence established that she was owed the claimed amount of $2,549.25 in unpaid wages. She was also entitled to liquidated damages in the same amount since the employer failed to prove that its FLSA violation was in good faith and based on reasonable grounds.

FMLA interference.

The employee also established that her employer interfered with her FMLA rights by discouraging her from taking leave to treat her serious health condition. The company did not dispute that she sent notice of her intent to take FMLA leave for surgery and recovery time to treat a serious eye condition. It also did not dispute that it didn’t deny or approve her leave requests, made remarks indicating that her job would be in jeopardy while on leave, and one month later terminated her. Thus, a reasonable jury to conclude that it interfered with her FMLA rights.

FMLA retaliation.

The employee was also entitled to summary judgment on her FMLA retaliation claim. She provided evidence that she was terminated just one month after she engaged in protected conduct by attempting to take FMLA leave for a serious eye condition. This close temporal proximity was sufficient to show that the decision was causally related to the protected activity. Further, the record suggested that the decisionmaker was aware of her FMLA request since her supervisor made remarks indicating that her job would be in jeopardy while she was out on leave. Finally, the employer wholly failed to articulate a legitimate business reason for the termination decision, or any reason at all.

As it was found to be in violation of the FMLA, the employer was liable for two years of lost wages in the amount of $32,561.75. And because the employer failed to demonstrate a reasonable or good faith basis for the violation, the employee was also entitled to liquidated damages in the same amount of the lost wages. However, the court rejected her bid for $10,000 in compensatory damages for mental distress stemming from the retaliation, as well as punitive damages, since the FMLA does not allow recovery for mental distress or punitive damages. In sum, she was entitled to a total judgment of $70,222.00.

SOURCE: Affonso v. Southeastern Florida Transportation Group, LLC (S.D. Fla.), No. 9:14-cv-81309-KAM, October 6, 2017.
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