Jury Awards $12M Under FMLA

November 4, 2002 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A Chicago federal jury has awarded $11.65 million to a veteran hospital maintenance worker who contended that his former employer fired him in retaliation for using unpaid family leave to care for his ailing parents.

Attorneys for plaintiff Chris Schultz said they believe the verdict in US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, is the largest ever in a case involving family leave, according to Washington legal publisher BNA.

Jurors ordered Advocate Health and Hospital Corp. to pay the money to Schultz, a 45-year-old building maintenance technician. Schultz had worked at Advocate’s Christ Hospital and Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Illinois., for 26 years until his firing two years ago.

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Schultz’ lawyers said Christ Hospital supervisors burdened Schultz with a series of unfair and illegal work expectations designed to make him either quit or face termination.

Case History

According to the BNA report quoting plaintiff lawyers, Schultz requested leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to occasionally care for his mother, who suffered from heart disease and diabetes, and his father, who was afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease.

Schultz’s mother died in July 2000, but Schultz continued to request leave to tend to his father. Siedlecki said such leave was taken intermittently over several months, but never totaled more than 300 hours.

During this period, however, Schultz ran afoul of his supervisors for reasons unrelated to his work performance. As a result, one supervisor told others in the building maintenance department that he intended to find grounds for dismissing Schultz, according to Schultz’ lawyers.

At the end of 1999, the supervisor established new monthly performance standards for workers in the building maintenance department. He said the standards were arbitrarily established and were not uniformly enforced.

In the case of Schultz, the supervisor decided to rigidly enforce the performance standards despite his knowledge that Schultz had to take increments of leave each month to care for his parents.

Schultz filed suit alleging Christ Hospital interfered with his rights under the FMLA and then discharged him in retaliation for his use of FMLA’s provisions.

The case is Schultz v. Advocate Health and Hospitals Corp., N.D. Ill., No. 01 CV 702, 10/30/02.