Judge Reduces Almost Family FMLA Penalty to $500,000

A nurse formerly employed by Almost Family has been awarded more than $500,000 after a federal jury in Connecticut found that the home health and nursing services provider violated the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The final amount was determined after a judge deemed an original verdict to be excessive.

The verdict included $194,507.19 in back wages, which was doubled under the provision of the federal leave law. With the inclusion of attorney fees and additional costs, the total award amounted to $502,400.

The plaintiff, Connie Sue Summerlin, started working for Almost Family on a per-diem basis in October 2006, according to the original 2012 complaint. In December 2009, she was hired by Almost Family to work as a full-time behavioral health care nursing manager. Her lawyer, Thomas Bucci, told the Connecticut Post that the majority of her clients were based in the Danbury, Connecticut, area.

According to the lawsuit, Summerlin slipped on ice outside a patient’s home and hurt her hip in February 2010. In April, she worsened the injury while lifting a box filled with medication for a patient.

Summerlin then took family and medical leave due to her injury. On Feb. 14, 2011, her physician gave her permission to return to work on light duty, with a return to full duty on March 8, 2011. However, she was told on Feb. 11, 2011, that her position had been eliminated on Aug. 26, 2010, when her leave allowance expired. Instead of giving Summerlin her job back, Almost Family offered her a per-diem nursing position.

In the meantime, Summerlin applied to five different jobs with Almost Family, all of which she claims she was qualified for, according to her lawsuit. Still, Almost Family hired her for none of them.

In the lawsuit, Summerlin claims Almost Family “refused to hire [her] to the positions to which she applied in retaliation for [her] filing a claim for workers’ compensation benefits or otherwise exercising the rights afforded to her pursuant to the provisions of the Connecticut Workers’ Compensation Act.”

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, employees may take as many as 12 weeks off in the event of the birth of a baby, an illness of a close relative or an injury, the Connecticut Law Tribune reported. They are not paid during the time off, but they still receive benefits from their employer. Additionally, the company is required to give them their job back, or provide a similar position, whenever they can come back to work.

In May, a judge awarded Summerlin $462,000 for back salary alone—an amount the jury reached by multiplying Summerlin’s annual salary, $111,531, by the number of days she was owed wages, 1,514. If that verdict would have stood, Summerlin would have received almost $1 million after the damages were doubled and lawyer fees were added.

Instead, Almost Family filed a motion claiming the jury did not take into account the additional money Summerlin earned working for two different employers after she recovered from her injury.

Senior U.S. District Judge Warren W. Eginton described the original verdict as “excessive,” and he gave Summerlin the choice of opting for a smaller verdict or a new trial. Summerlin opted for the smaller verdict.

At the time of this posting, Almost Family has not responded to Senior Housing News’ requests for comment.

Written by Mary Kate Nelson