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Court upholds jury verdict against company that fired employee because she needed leave from work to care for autistic son

Earlier this week, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a jury verdict against a company that fired an employee, Tracy Wink, because she needed leave to care for her autistic son. The jury found that Wink’s termination violated the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

Wink had to take leave from work to care for her autistic son because, due to his autism, he exhibited behaviors that led to his expulsion from his daycare center. Wink’s mother was able to watch her son three days per workweek but Wink had to watch him for the other two days of the workweek. Wink’s employer, Miller Compressing Co., permitted Wink to work from home the two days per week that she had to watch her son. It permitted Wink to deduct the hours from her pay that she spent during those two days caring for her son.

After several months working under this arrangement, Miller Compressing’s management decided that it would no longer allow any employees to work from home. A human resources (HR) officer called Wink on a Friday and told her that starting the next Monday she would have to start working in the office and if she could not do that she would be fired. Wink broke down in tears telling the HR officer that she could not possibly find day care for her son with such short notice. The HR officer falsely told Wink that FMLA did not permit her to take leave to care for her son unless she was taking him to a doctor’s appointment or therapy. On Monday she came into work and said that she had not found day care for her son. The company refused to change its decision and, as a result, Wink’s employment was terminated.

As the Seventh Circuit held, the FMLA permits eligible employees to take leave from work, even on an intermittent basis like Wink required, to care for a son or daughter with a serious health condition. It is unclear whether the HR officer knew this and lied to Wink or simply made a mistake. Either way, it was a violation of Wink’s rights.

The Maine Employee Rights Group has decades of combined experience representing workers in FMLA cases. If you think your employer has violated your FMLA rights, contact us for a free consultation.