In Farrell v. Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon, (— F.3d —, 2008 WL 2552261, C.A.9 (Or.), June 27, 2008), the United States Court of Appeals considered whether an employer was liable for an employee’s lost wages resulting from work absences that were caused by the employer’s wrongful denial of the employee’s leave benefits under the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”).
The court affirmed a lower court ruling that the plain language of FMLA, while not allowing for punitive or psychological damages, holds an employer liable for an employee’s lost wages for work missed due to the employer’s wrongful denial of medical leave.
Frank Farrell worked as a bus driver for the Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon (“TriMet”). He developed several health problems including diabetes, eczema, pulmonary disease, asthma, emphysema and bronchitis. In 2003, pursuant to FMLA, he repeatedly requested permission to be absent from work and TriMet repeatedly denied his requests. Thereafter, Farrell was diagnosed with adjustment disorder, anxiety and depression – resulting in absences from work – for which TriMet did not pay him.
Farrell sued under the FMLA. A jury found that TriMet wrongly denied Farrell’s requests for medical leave, that the wrongful denials resulted in other problems that caused him to miss work, and that Farrell was entitled to $1,110.00 in lost wages for his lost work time. TriMet appealed, contending the damages awarded Farrell amounted to “psychological” damages not contemplated by FMLA.
FMLA provides that an employer who violates FMLA shall be liable to an affected employee 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,” the court noted.
The jury rightly awarded Farrell precisely that, the court found. The wrongful denial of the medical leave to which FMLA entitled Farrell left him unable to work and he lost wages as a result. He was not awarded damages for emotional distress, which would have required valuating an intangible, the court said, but rather the easily quantifiable amount of the wages he lost due to TriMet’s violation.
Because the jury verdict was limited to wages actually lost as a result of TriMet’s violation, the award was proper under FMLA, the court concluded. The jury’s verdict was affirmed.