Eighth Circuit Remands Damages Decision to Jury in FMLA Case

Randi Klein Hyatt
Randi Klein Hyatt

The Eighth Circuit has held that factual disputes require a damages award in an FMLA case be reviewed by a jury. Wages v. Stuart Mgmt Co., 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 13942 (8th Cir. Aug. 10, 2015).

Ena Wages was a caretaker at Woodridge Apartment Homes a property owned by Stuart Management Corporation (StuartCo.). Her positon involved daily tasks such as “vacuuming, cleaning, mopping, washing windows, and dusting.” Wages had been working since November 17, 2008 for StuartCo. before she learned of her high risk pregnancy come summertime of 2009. On November 12, 2009 her physician gave Wages a note limiting her work week to no more than 20 hours a week and the following day Wages presented the note to her supervisor and emailed it to the head of human resources. The company decided that day to terminate Wages, but did not tell her until three days later.

Wages sued StuartCo. for alleged violations of her FMLA rights. She claimed that StuartCo. retaliated against her following her action of requesting a shorter work week directed by her physician. The trial court granted summary judgment in her favor.

The trial court help that Wages produced sufficient evidence that she met the requirements to be eligible for FMLA benefits. In other words, having worked for a 12 month period at an establishment that is a FMLA-covered employer. Using a prior case from the Eleventh Circuit and an FMLA regulation, the court was satisfied with Wages claim to working for a 12 month long period.

The trial court also held that Wages had sufficiently and timely given her doctor’s note to her employer. She was awarded $161,000 in back pay, prejudgment interest, liquidated damages, and post-judgement interest. StuartCo appealed, requesting a jury to assess the damages.

StuartCo. insisted that there were factual disputes that required a jury, not the court, to decide the issue of damages. The Eighth Circuit agreed, holding that the case should be remanded so a jury could consider the amount of damages to be paid to Wages. While it was clear, said the court, that StuartCo.’s reason for firing Wages was for exercising her FMLA rights, it found that “there are factual disputes that should have prevented the district court from determining damages.” For example, said the court, “a jury should have determine[d] whether Wages mitigated damages (and to what extent) and whether StuartCo. acted in bad faith.”

This blog was written by K&S Summer Intern Dorsey Yearley

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