Jury Awards Florida Woman $100,000 For Employer’s Violation of the Family Medical Leave Act


“We can no longer be useful when we are not well”

- Samuel Johnson


In today’s economic climate, even people with jobs struggle to hold on to them, sometimes to the detriment of their own health. A recent Department of Labor and Employment Survey discovered almost one-third of American workers who needed leave wouldn’t take it because they were afraid of losing their jobs.  It seems many Americans don’t realize they have a right to medical leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).


Kara Jorud’s Story


In the recent case of Kara Jorud v. Michaels Stores, Inc., et al., a Florida woman won a substantial victory over the employer who violated her FMLA rights. Ms. Jorud, age 47, was using medical leave to recover from recent breast cancer surgery.  Ms. Jorud had a double mastectomy on August 19th, and was told by her doctors she would need at least 9 weeks of recovery.  In spite of the Family Medical Leave Act, which allows covered employees to take up to 3 months of medical leave without fear of termination, Ms. Jorud’s boss began pressuring her to come back to work before she’d even had a chance to have drainage tubes taken out of her chest.  Bowing to the pressure of her boss and afraid of losing her job, she returned to work on September 15th. Ms. Jorud reluctantly returned to work because she wanted to save her job.


Too Weak to Work


Unfortunately, the cancer had left Ms. Jorud weak and fatigued, and the surgery had destroyed much of the muscle in her chest.  In this fragile state she wasn’t able to meet the physical demands of her job.  She was threatened with termination almost immediately upon returning to work.  Not wanting to lose employment because of her illness, Ms. Jorud resorted to having her husband help finish her workload.  Despite her best efforts, Ms. Jorud’s employer fired her a month after she returned to work.


She Fights Back


Angered at how she was treated, Ms. Jorud fought back.  She sued her former employer for violations of several federal employment laws, including the Family Medical Leave Act.  Her employer, Michaels, claimed they had fired Ms. Jorud because she violated several store policies. Her attorneys argued she was terminated because she couldn’t do the same volume of work as before.  This inability to perform was the result of her employer not allowing her time to recover after a serious illness.


The jury sided with Ms. Jorud and awarded her over $8 million, including $100,000 for violations of the FMLA.  Ms. Jorud’s lawyers have indicated there is even a possibility the judge could double the FMLA award, in addition to awarding attorney’s fees. 


Your FMLA Rights


Does a case like Ms. Jorud’s change the way employers treat medical leave? Unfortunately it does not. Despite stories like this, employers continue to ignore federally protected rights and American workers suffer because of it. 


The FMLA provides eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off from work to care for a loved one, a newborn child, or their own health problems, without fear of losing their job.  The Act applies to an employer who has at least 50 employees and to an employee who has worked at least 1,250 hours. 


Help is Available


There are two ways employers violate federally protected rights under the FMLA.  It is important that you speak with an attorney if either of the following applies to you :


1. Your employer denies you leave and you feel you deserve it.


2. You employer fires you or treats you poorly because you took medical leave. 


If you believe you have been denied your rights under the FMLA, or have been discriminated against because you have used those rights, please contact Wooldridge & Jezek, LLP for a free consultation. Wooldridge & Jezek, LLP is well versed in Federal Employment Laws, and will work to protect your rights.


By William Smith

Date: October 19, 2010

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