(CN) – The 7th Circuit upheld a jury verdict for a former Care Centers employee who accused the company of cutting off her health insurance because she took maternity leave after the birth of her triplets.
Since joining Care Centers in 1985, Kathleen Ryl-Kuchar worked her way up from part-time dishwasher to dietary consultant. She was a salaried employee with health-insurance benefits.
When she became pregnant with triplets, she continued to work until she could “no longer fit behind the wheel” to drive to work.
She then began working from home, an arrangement sanctioned by the company’s chief operating officer. Although her hours dipped below 35 per week, she received the same pay.
After giving birth in July 2003, she returned to work briefly, but decided that caring for three infants was too taxing and decided to take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). She initially intended to return to work in the fall, but decided to resign on Oct. 1.
In mid-November, her health insurance was retroactively canceled with an effective date of June 15 – a month before she gave birth, at a time when the medical bills were piling up. The employee benefits association affiliated with Care Centers had determined that Ryl-Kuchar became a part-time employee when she started working from home, and was therefore no longer eligible for health insurance.
Ryl-Kuchar filed suit, claiming Care Centers cut off her health insurance in retaliation for her decision to take maternity leave.
She gathered evidence to back up her claim: an article in the company newsletter stated that Care Centers was concerned with rising health-care costs; she received her full-time salary while working from home; and Care Centers audited her payroll records only after she took FMLA leave.
The jury found for Ryl-Kuchar, awarding her $30,000 to cover her medical costs.
Care Centers moved for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and appealed when the district court denied its motion.
Judge Evans noted that the standard for reversing a jury verdict is high.
“[A] trial court should overturn a verdict only where the evidence supports but one conclusion – the conclusion not drawn by the jury,” Evans wrote. “That standard is tough; Care Centers is no match.”
The court held that the verdict was sufficiently grounded in evidence.
“It was not unreasonable for the jury to conclude, based on the evidence, that the real reason was because Ryl-Kuchar elected to take FMLA leave,” Evans concluded.