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
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,”
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