Family and Medical Leave: Jury Awards Over $11 Million to Employee Fired After Taking Leave to Care for Aging Parents

Chris Schultz, a longtime maintenance worker at Christ Hospital and Medical Center in Illinois, took 12 weeks of FMLA leave over the course of a year to care for his ill parents. His father had Alzheimer’s disease and his mother had heart problems and diabetes. During this time period, the hospital implemented a new evaluation policy for maintenance workers that involved monthly work output standards. Schultz had trouble meeting these standards because of his FMLA leave and was eventually fired.

Employee Sues for Retaliation

Schultz sued the hospital, claiming he was fired in retaliation for taking FMLA leave. He also sued under a state law for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Schultz argued that the work output standards were inconsistently enforced and differed from worker to worker but were strictly enforced for him when he couldn’t meet the standards because of his leave.

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Millions in Damages Awarded

A Chicago jury sided with Schultz and awarded him $750,000 in compensatory damages plus a whopping $10 million in punitive damages. The jury also held two of Schultz’s supervisors individually responsible, ordering them each to pay $450,000 in damages. The court is currently considering whether to award Schultz additional damages for lost pay.

Being Fair Is Critical

This case underscores the importance of dealing fairly with employees who are on—or have recently taken—family leave. Keep these points in mind:

  1. Be careful with production goals. In an earlier article, we reported that an employer wound up in court for reducing the “stay bonus” of an employee who took FMLA leave. The court mentioned production goals in passing and implied that they were generally OK to apply to employees on FMLA leave. But this new verdict demonstrates how critical it is to ensure that production goals are enforced fairly and consistently, and that employees on family leave are treated the same as employees who are away from work for other reasons.


  2. Follow your own policies. According to Schultz’s lawyer, Charles Siedlecki, the production goal policy used to justify Schultz’s firing stated that it was not intended to be used as a punitive measure. This may have helped convince the jury that the hospital wasn’t playing fair when it disciplined Schultz.


  3. Educate managers. Make sure managers know it’s illegal to take adverse action against an employee because the person has taken family and medical leave.

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