Employment-Sixth Circuit Rules That Damages In The Amount of $173,000 May Be Awarded For An FMLA Violation

In Wallace v. FedEx Corporation, Nos. 11-5500, 5577 (6th Cir. 2014), the following obtained. The plaintiff, Tina Wallace (“Wallace”), worked for the defendant, FedEx Corporation (“FedEx”). By the summer of 2007, Wallace had developed a variety of health problems that required her to take leave from her job. FedEx offered Wallace leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), and its representatives verbally asked her to complete a medical-certification form. FedEx, however, never explained the consequences of not returning a completed form. Wallace failed to provide FedEx with the medical certification, and once she was absent for two consecutive days after the form was due, FedEx terminated her employment.

Wallace filed suit under the FMLA, alleging that FedEx interfered with her rights under the statute. A magistrate judge dismissed Wallace’s request for liquidated damages and front pay, but after a trial, the jury sided with Wallace on the issues of liability and back pay, awarding damages in the amount of $173,000. Both parties filed post-judgment motions, and the magistrate judge denied all of them, except to reduce Wallace’s damages award to $90,788. The question for the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals (the “Court”): Should the original damage award of $173,000 be restored?

The Court concluded that the $173,000 damages award should be restored. Why? The issue is one of procedure. Having found that the magistrate judge had granted a Rule 59 motion for remittitur, the Court said that the magistrate judge then committed procedural error by not offering Wallace the option of a new trial on damages. Therefore, the Court must reverse the magistrate judge’s decision to reduce the damages award.