Sixth Circuit thoroughly addresses Family Medical Leave Act
In Carl L. Thom, Jr. v. American Standard, Inc., the Sixth Circuit was forced to critically analyze the consequences of confusion regarding when an employee must return from an FMLA leave. Ultimately, the Court upheld the lower court's determination that American Standard committed a violation of the act and its calculation of damages, although it reversed the court's failure to award FMLA liquidated damages.
In short, Thom injured his shoulder and was unable to work as a molder. He healed more quickly than expected, however, and attempted to return to work on "light duty." The employer's HR director sent him home with the explanation that he could not return to work on limited duty after a non-work-related FMLA leave. On June 14, the Defendant contacted Thom to ask why he had not returned to work on the 13th, the date it had been anticipated he would return. He explained that he was still experiencing pain and deemed it wisest to complete the approved post-surgical leave that extended through the 27th. When he attempted to return to work, Thom was informed that he had been terminated for failing to report on the 13th. The Court confirmed that the Defendant had illegally interfered with Thom's FMLA rights and upheld the award of damages, including $99,000.00 in attorney's fees and $104,000.00 in back pay. The Court also required the Defendant to make whole Thom's loss of pension rights arising out of the wrongful termination.