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Actual Damages Required for FMLA Suit

Nathan Hickey worked as a salesperson for an insurance company. In September 2016, Hickey informed his supervisor that his grandmother was ill and he might need time off as a result. After his grandmother passed, Hickey struggled with feelings of depression and anxiety. He requested and received approval for a twelve-week leave of absence. During his leave, Protective Life Insurance Company purchased Hickey’s employer. Company representatives told Hickey that when he returned to work, he would receive a new territory closer to home, he would be assigned different accounts, and he would need to build up his own book of business. The company guaranteed his salary for the first six months after his return. However, Protective terminated Hickey’s employment shortly after his return when Hickey commented to others that he did not want to continue in his position, and Hickey lied about whether he shared confidential information.

Hickey appealed his Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) interference lawsuit against the company to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. To prevail on his claim, Hickey had to establish that his employer denied him FMLA benefits. Once he met that requirement, the FMLA allowed him to recover “any actual monetary losses” and appropriate equitable relief.

The circuit court found Hickey suffered no damages. He received the same salary and benefits upon his return from FMLA leave. At the time of this firing, he had suffered no monetary loss. Recovery under the FMLA occurs only for damages resulting from the interference. Consequential damages may be available in certain circumstances, such as when an employee must hire caregivers because of the interference, a situation not relevant here. Lastly, Hickey was also not entitled to equitable damages because he was placed in a similar position upon his return to work. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the case.