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Appeals court holds that property management company violated employee’s FMLA rights

Earlier this month the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit held that a property management company violated the FMLA rights of its former employee Ena Wages. Ms. Wages worked for the company as a caretaker from November 17, 2008 to November 16, 2009. Caretakers maintained the company’s properties by vacuuming, cleaning, mopping, washing windows, dusting, and removing snow.

In the summer of 2009, Ms. Wages learned that she was pregnant and she needed accommodations in order to perform her caretaker job. The property management company that employed Ms. Wages accommodated some of Ms. Wages’ restrictions but it began to refuse when Ms. Wages started to need to miss work. She had to miss work due to abdominal pain on November 9, 10, and 12, 2009. She submitted a doctor’s note to her supervisor on November 13, 2009, which said that she needed a reduced schedule of 20 hours per week because of her pregnancy. The property management company fired Ms. Wages on November 16, 2009. The company gave Ms. Wages a termination notice which said that it decided to fire her because it could not accommodate the restrictions in her doctor’s note.

The trial court held that the property management company’s termination of Ms. Wages violated the FMLA and the Eighth Circuit affirmed this holding. Both courts rejected the property management company’s argument that Ms. Wages was not eligible for FMLA leave because she had not worked for the company for 12 months. The Eighth Circuit ruled that since Ms. Wages began to work for the company on November 17, 2008, she reached the 12-month mark of her employment on November 16, 2009. It reasoned that November 17, 2009 would have been the start of her second 12-month period of employment.

The court held that the property management company denied Ms. Wages the FMLA to which she was entitled and also that the company retaliated against Ms. Wages because she had requested FMLA leave. The trial court awarded Ms. Wages damages because of the company’s violations of her FMLA rights. The Eighth Circuit reversed that decision and held that a trial would be necessary to determine the amount of Ms. Wages’ damages.