A federal jury has awarded $74,000 to Melissa Brown, a former food service director at Plymouth House nursing home in Plymouth Meeting, after the contractor employing her dismissed her when she sought .
But that was just the beginning. The judge overseeing the case determined the employer, Nutrition , did not negotiate in good faith. Therefore, she added interest and then doubled the award—and then tacked on another $145,000 in attorneys’ fees.
The problems started when the company that owned the nursing home outsourced food services to Nutrition Management. Brown had worked directly for the nursing home before the outsourcing and continued in the same job for Nutrition Management. When she informed Nutrition Management she was pregnant, it told her she had not been on the job long enough to qualify for maternity leave under the .
She filed suit, claiming Nutrition Management was a successor in interest as defined by the . If so, her time when she was directly employed by the nursing home would count as time on the job for computing FMLA eligibility.
Nutrition Management was adamant, based on its in-house attorney’s opinion, that it was right in denying the leave. Federal District Judge Norma Shapiro disagreed.
In her opinion, Shapiro wrote the employer “presented no evidence that it researched or had an attorney research the requirements of the FMLA.” This, Shapiro opined, showed a lack of good faith, justifying the doubling of the award. In all, the employer will shell out $306,311 for its lack of effort.
Note: Employers that keep employees in substantially the same positions they held under previous employers are considered successors in interest under the FMLA. This part of the reg was put in place to prevent companies from simply changing names to avoid providing . Successors in interest must count all employee time with the previous company when calculating FMLA eligibility.
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