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Judge orders Arizona worker be offered reinstatement, paid back wages and expenses under Family and Medical Leave Act following US Labor investigation
Driver and family lost income, critical health care coverage when company changed hands
PHOENIX — A U.S. district court judge in Phoenix by a consent judgment has ordered that an Arizona delivery driver be offered reinstatement and receive back pay and reimbursement of medical expenses under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
The U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division found that DS Waters of America Inc. discriminated against the driver when it failed to reinstate him at the end of an approved FMLA-covered leave period. The Atlanta, Ga.-based employer, doing business as Sparkletts, acquired Mesa-based O Premium Waters shortly after the employee began the leave. The department's investigation determined that Sparkletts, as the successor company, had a legal obligation to allow this employee to complete his leave and then restore him to an equivalent position as required by the act.
Since 1993, the FMLA has helped covered workers in this country balance work and family responsibilities by providing job protected leave to care for their own serious health condition or that of a family member. The law allows workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave annually, including to bond with a newborn, newly adopted or newly placed child or care for a seriously ill child, spouse or parent, without fear of losing their jobs.
"Twenty years ago, the FMLA codified a simple and fundamental principle in this country: Workers should not have to choose between the job they need and the family members they love and who need their care," said acting Secretary of Labor Seth D. Harris. "Employers must abide by this principle in both their policies and practices."
"This case is a real victory for workers and families seeking justice against unlawful employment practices," added Mary Beth Maxwell, acting deputy administrator of the Wage and Hour Division. "An employee was suddenly left without a job, paycheck or medical benefits when the company changed hands. He and his family suffered emotional and financial stress at a time when they could least afford it."
The department's investigation determined that, at the time of the acquisition, Sparkletts hired approximately 87 percent of O Premium Waters' drivers at the Mesa location but excluded the driver on approved medical leave. Sparkletts' refusal to rehire the employee and continue the employment benefits he had as an employee of O Premium Waters, including medical, dental and vision insurance for him and his family, violated the law.
To resolve the violations, the company has been required to make an offer of employment with full seniority credit and reimburse the worker $31,464 in out-of-pocket medical expenses, in addition to paying him $26,871 in back wages.
This case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, and the department was represented by its regional Office of the Solicitor in San Francisco. For more information on federal wage laws, call the Wage and Hour Division's toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243) or its Phoenix office at 602-514-7100. Information is also available at http://www.dol.gov/whd/.