FORT LAUDERDALE — A lawsuit filed in January against the University of Miami by a former employee citing the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is likely months away from resolution, says a Florida attorney who specializes in employee rights.

The case was previously reported by the Florida Record and was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida against the University of Miami.

Matthew K. Fenton, a lawyer with Wenzel Fenton Cabassa, P.A., has been practicing law for over two decades and has vast experience with cases involving FMLA. According to Fenton, there are two main qualifications for the FMLA to apply to employees.

“You have to work for an employer that has 50 employees within 75 miles of where you work and have to have worked there for at least a year,” Fenton told the Florida Record. “Then you have to have a serious health condition which would generally be anything where you spend the night in the hospital for at least one night.”

Additionally, a condition that requires an employee to miss three consecutive days of work, chronic conditions and the birth of a child qualify for the FMLA. If the right conditions are met, employees are entitled to medical leave under the law.

“Then you’re entitled to 12 weeks per year of medical leave where the employer has to protect your job while you’re gone,” Fenton said. “The reason lawsuits get filed is either because an employee has been retaliated against by an employer or (the employer) failed to reinstate them when (the employee) is ready to come back to work.”

In her complaint, April Dojnia alleges that she was terminated from her position in senior management for recruitment at the University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center after exercising her rights as protected by the FMLA and the ADA. She is represented by Richard D. Tuschman of Goodz & Tuschman PLLC.

The defense has until March 7 to answer the initial complaint filed by Dojnia, who requested a jury trial and relief as allowed by statute, including lost wages. The defendant, the University of Miami, is represented by Eric K. Gabrielle of Stearns Weaver Miller Weissler Alhadeff & Sitterson P.A. of Fort Lauderdale.

While some might see FMLA suits as a way for disgruntled employees to get back at their former employers, the possible outcomes of these cases make that less likely. In fact, FMLA claims don’t allow for the pain and suffering awards that other types of civil suits provide.

“The range of damages could include reinstatement that’s in the scope of possibilities, but it rarely happens,” Fenton said. 

Reinstatement isn’t a common outcome, however, as the history between employee and employer and the involvement of the court can leave both parties with hostile feelings. Generally, successful plaintiffs receive damage awards.

“Damages are limited to, basically, your lost wages,” Fenton said. “You can get lost wages and you can get liquidated damages in an amount equal to your lost wages, but there is no pain and suffering or punitive damage award (for FMLA claims).”

The Donjia case claims violations of the ADA, which leaves the possibility that the court will award not only back pay, but also punitive damages and awards. The maximum punitive damage for ADA claims is $300,000. The final outcome of the case may be months or more than a year in the future for Donjia and the university.

“(FMLA cases) can resolve as quickly as three or four months, or if they go all the way to trial it can be 18 months or more,” Fenton said. “It just depends on how motivated the parties are to resolve it.”

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