A federal judge in New Jersey recently awarded $274,000 in attorney’s fees and costs to the plaintiff in a lawsuit related to an employee’s request for medical leave. Boles v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., No. 2:12-cv-01762, opinion (D.N.J., Aug. 6, 2015). A jury found for the plaintiff in March 2015 on his claim of retaliation in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD), N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-12. It awarded him compensatory and punitive damages totaling $200,000. When the court entered the order for attorney’s fees and costs, it also denied the defendant’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV).
The plaintiff began working at a retail store owned and operated by the defendant in Linden, New Jersey in 2001. He received various promotions over the years, eventually becoming an overnight assistant manager in early 2011. The plaintiff sought medical attention for a blister on his leg in May 2011. This became an ulceration, which can be dangerous because of the risk of infection. His doctor recommended that he take medical leave until November, but the defendant reportedly only approved leave through late September. The plaintiff was not able to return to work by then and requested an extension of his leave. He tried to return to work in late October 2011, but the defendant would not allow him to do so. It terminated him shortly afterwards for abandoning his job.
In March 2012, the plaintiff filed suit under the NJLAD and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. He asserted four causes of action: retaliation for requesting medical leave, disability discrimination, and failure to accommodate, all in violation of the NJLAD; and interference with his rights under the FMLA. In March 2014, the court partially granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed the disability discrimination claim and part of the failure to accommodate claim. It denied the motion as to the claims for retaliation and FMLA interference, and partly as to the failure to accommodate claim. The case went to jury trial in March 2015.
Shortly before trial, the plaintiff dropped his FMLA claim, so the case only went to trial on the two remaining claims under the NJLAD. The jury entered a verdict in the plaintiff’s favor on the retaliation claim. It awarded him $140,000 in compensatory damages, of which $130,000 was for back pay and $10,000 was for emotional distress. It also awarded $60,000 in punitive damages.
The plaintiff moved for attorney’s fees and costs, while the defendant filed a cross-motion for JNOV. In early August, the court partly granted the plaintiff’s motion and denied the defendant’s motion. It rejected the defendant’s claims that the plaintiff failed to prove that he was part of a protected class under the NJLAD, that he failed to prove causation between his medical leave and his termination, or that he “abused” the defendant’s medical leave policy. Boles, opinion at 4. It then found that the plaintiff satisfied all of the requirements for recovery of attorney’s fees and costs under the NJLAD. N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-27.1.
If you are involved in an FMLA dispute in New Jersey or New York, contact the employment law attorneys at Resnick Law Group through our website, at 973-781-1204, or at (646) 867-7997 today to schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your case.
More Blog Posts:
Employer Lays Off Worker After Learning About Cancer Diagnosis, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, December 10, 2014
New Jersey Law Allows Victims of Domestic Violence and Sexual Crimes to Take Unpaid Work Leave, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, November 4, 2013
ADA Protects Workers Suffering From Postpartum Depression in New Jersey, New York, and Nationwide, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, October 31, 2013