Damages Are Required to Maintain an FMLA Claim

By Samantha J. Wood March 31, 2021
Hundred-dollar bills falling from the sky

​Without evidence of harm, a plaintiff has no claim under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held.

Protective Life Corp. employed the plaintiff from November 2015 to March 2017. From November 2016 to February 2017, the plaintiff took 12 weeks of continuous FMLA leave.

A few days after his return from leave, the plaintiff was told he would be reassigned to a new territory closer to his home, he would no longer service certain accounts and he would need to build his own book of business. His commissions, nonetheless, would be guaranteed and remain constant for six months. A few weeks later, the plaintiff was terminated for reasons unrelated to his FMLA leave.

The plaintiff sued, alleging that Protective Life Corp. interfered with his FMLA rights by not reinstating him to his former or an equivalent position as required by the law.

The 7th Circuit stated that an employer that violates the FMLA shall be liable for damages equal to the amount of "any wages, salary, employment benefits or other compensation denied or lost to such employee by reason of the violation," along with actual monetary losses sustained by the employee as a direct result of the violation, including the cost of providing care and equitable relief as may be appropriate. However, the damages sought must have a direct connection to the harm suffered.

Here, the court held that the plaintiff could not succeed on his interference claim because he was unable to prove that he had suffered any monetary damages as a result of the alleged interference or was otherwise entitled to equitable relief. The plaintiff admitted that his compensation and benefits had not been reduced and would not be reduced for six months following his return from work. Thus, although the plaintiff may have eventually suffered damages had he remained employed, he had not suffered any compensable damages at the time his employment was terminated.

Hickey v. Protective Life Corp., 7th Cir., No. 3:18-cv-03018 (Feb. 12, 2021).

Professional Pointer: While the FMLA requires employees to be reinstated to the same or an equivalent position, this case reminds employers that the FMLA does not prevent employers from taking actions unrelated to the employee's leave. If faced with an FMLA claim, employers should assess the risk and defenses to an FMLA claim, including whether the employee suffered any cognizable harm.

Samantha J. Wood is an attorney with Lindner & Marsack S.C., the Worklaw® Network member firm in Milwaukee.



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