Florida Sheriff’s Office Employee Fired for Requesting FMLA Leave -
A Florida sheriff’s office employee was out sick for 2 days. When she
returned on a Monday, she told her boss that she had a
serious infection and would need to be out for regular
treatments. That Friday, she submitted paperwork requesting
intermittent leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
The following Monday, she was fired. The employer claimed
she’d been terminated for poor performance.
“Spear (the employee)” before being
terminated worked for the Broward County Sheriff’s Office
for more than the requisite 12 months, and there was no
question in the case that she was eligible for leave under
FMLA. Nor did the employer ever say that anything was
lacking in her request for leave, such as missing medical
certification or unclear estimates about the amount of time
she expected to be out. The employer instead offered two
arguments: First, it said, Spear had been fired for poor
performance; the termination had nothing to do with her FMLA
request. Second, she had filed a complaint with the U.S.
Department of Labor (DOL), so she was precluded from suing
the employer in court.
Spear claimed retaliation for her request, rather than
the other possible charge, that of employer interference
with her FMLA rights. In a federal district court, a jury
was gathered to hear the case. It heard what was later
reported to be conflicting evidence about her performance.
We can guess that her periodic evaluations were all
“satisfactory” or better, but the employer testified that
she really wasn’t a good employee at all. So the jury
awarded Spear back pay with interest, liquidated damages, 5
years of front pay, and attorneys’ fees. The sheriff’s
office appealed the verdict to the 11th Circuit, which
covers Alabama, Florida, and Georgia.