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Sixth Circuit Reverses Lower Court Decision on FMLA Issue

office-chair-1431952-m.jpgThe Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals found that a woman who claimed a Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) violation was entitled to a judgment in her favor. During the trial in this case, the jury awarded the woman $173,000, but that amount was reduced by the judge to $90,788. This decision was reversed by the Sixth Circuit, and she was awarded $173,000.

Wallace v. Fedex Corp.

Wallace v. Fedex Corp. is a classic example of the impact that the violation of an employee’s rights can have on an organization. The Sixth Circuit explained that, although FedEx has a right to ask an employee to provide a medical certification in relation to an FMLA request, it must also explain the consequences to an employee if he or she fails to provide such documentation. In this instance, FedEx failed to inform the plaintiff about what would happen if she did not provide a certification.

Ms. Wallace was employed by FedEx as a paralegal for over two decades. Unfortunately, she became ill, which resulted in a series of medical difficulties that affected her ability to attend work as she was regularly scheduled. After discussing her issues with her employer, FedEx finally agreed to provide Ms. Wallace with the documentation necessary to proceed with leave under the FMLA.

FedEx provided her with a form to fill out that was supposed to be completed by her doctor, but it did not give her any written timelines or instructions regarding when it needed the completed documentation. Most importantly, FedEx did not provide anything in writing to Ms. Wallace regarding the consequences if she failed to return the form. FedEx simply verbally mentioned that she needed to have the form back within 15 days. Ms. Wallace got the necessary paperwork from her doctor but because of her illness could not return the form to FedEx. Two days after the 15-day deadline had passed, Ms. Wallace was terminated from her position. She then sued FedEx, claiming that she would have returned the form if she had known that she would face such dire consequences. Additionally, she claimed that she was owed back pay for the time that she was not working because of an erroneous termination.

The Decision

FedEx faced liability because it wrongfully terminated Ms. Wallace in violation of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). Ms. Wallace claimed she was owed compensation for lost pay and healthcare benefits and was due reinstatement. After several days of trial and many motions, a jury awarded her damages amounting to $173,000. The jury found that FedEx did not comply with the Federal Regulations under the FMLA because it failed to notify Ms. Wallace of the consequences if she failed to return the medical certification. However, the magistrate judge reduced her award to only $90,788. The case was then appealed to the Sixth Circuit, which reversed the lower court’s decision and finally awarded Ms. Wallace a judgment for $173,000.

Do You Need an Attorney?

This case illustrates the importance of employers abiding by the rules and regulations set forth by the federal government. If you or someone you know has been a victim of employment discrimination, please contact us at 502-583-2300 by telephone or contact our firm online to set up a free initial consultation.

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NLRB Finds That McDonalds Is a Joint Employer and Can Be Named in Worker Complaints, Kentucky Employment Lawyer Blog, August 1, 2014.