The U.S. Department of Labor has filed a lawsuit in federal District Court seeking back wages, liquidated damages and employment reinstatement for an employee of Fairfield-based DNA Diagnostics Center Inc.
The employee requested unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act to care for an ill niece for whom the employee was standing “in loco parentis,” or as a temporary guardian. The lawsuit, which resulted from an investigation conducted by the department’s Wage and Hour Division, alleges the company unlawfully denied the FMLA leave request and terminated the employee from her position after she exercised her rights under the FMLA.
“Our investigation found that DNA Diagnostics Center denied this worker her right to unpaid, job-protected leave under FMLA and then fired her for attempting to exercise that right. An employee who has day-to-day responsibility for caring for a child is entitled to FMLA protection, even if the employee does not have a biological or legal relationship with the child,” said George Victory, Wage and Hour district director in Columbus. “Employees already in distress over family or medical situations should not have to choose between their family and their job. The department is committed to protecting workers’ rights under the FMLA and to educating both employers and employees about their rights and responsibilities under this law.”
The FMLA entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take up to 12 workweeks of unpaid, job-protected leave in a 12-month period for specified family and medical reasons, with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave. The definition of son or daughter under the FMLA includes not only a biological or adopted child, but also a foster child, a stepchild, a legal ward or a child of a person standing in loco parentis. In June 2010 the department issued an Administrator Interpretation, clarifying the definition of son and daughter under the FMLA. This was to ensure that an employee who assumes the role of caring for a child receives parental rights to family leave regardless of the legal or biological relationship.
The worker was a temporary guardian for her seriously ill 12–year-old niece, and she requested leave to care for the child during a health crisis. Her FMLA leave was denied because the company alleged the guardianship was temporary and not court-ordered. The employee was subsequently terminated by the company when she took leave to care for the child.
The lawsuit requests for the worker to receive unpaid back wages; employment benefits plus interest and an additional equal amount as liquidated damages; and reinstatement to her position with the company. The lawsuit also asks the court to enjoin the company from violating the FMLA in the future.
Since 1993, the FMLA has been a major component in the department’s effort to promote work-family balance, providing workplace protections for employees with a serious health condition, or for those who are caring for a covered family member with a serious health condition. The FMLA helps to ease the burden that can come with needing time away from work when faced with such an illness. For more information about the FMLA and other federal wage laws, call the Wage and Hour Division’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). Information also is available at http://www.dol.gov/whd.