City Must Pay for Firing Staffer Before a Surgery

     CHICAGO (CN) – A woman who was fired for after taking three days of medical leave for plastic surgery to remove massive skin folds left over from gastric bypass surgery deserved $400,000 in damages, a federal judge ruled.
     Gladys Alcazar-Anselmo, former deputy commissioner of the Chicago Department of Consumer Services, underwent gastric bypass surgery in January 2006 to combat her obesity. Because her resulting rapid weight loss of more than150 pounds created excess skin that hung from her arms and abdomen, she requested medical leave to remove the skin by plastic surgery in May 2007.
     But Alcazar-Anselmo alleged that her supervisor, Norma Reyes, did not see plastic surgery as a legitimate reason for her to request medical leave and fired her one week before the date of surgery.
     Alcazar-Anselmo then sued the city of Chicago for violating the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) with its conduct.
     The trial began in March 2011 and concluded with the jury awarding Alcazar-Anselmo $75,000 in damages.
     At the close of the case, the city moved for judgment as a matter of law or a new trial, claiming that Alcazar-Anselmo lacked evidence and that her health condition did not qualify her for FMLA leave. Alcazar-Anselmo countered with a motion for prejudgment interest, post-judgment interest and liquidated damages.
     U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber denied Chicago’s request for a new trial and partly granted Alcazar-Anselmo’s motions for attorneys’ fees and an increased award.
     Leinenweber began by throwing out Chicago’s claim that Alcazar-Anselmo’s excess skin did not constitute a serious medical condition. Alcazar-Anselmo had “a condition that a person would not be reasonably expected to live with if a remedy exists,” the 23-page decision states. “Such a remedy was plastic surgery, which required plaintiff to be incapacitated for more than three days.”
     “The court already determined that the excess skin was a serious medical condition that qualified plaintiff for FMLA leave,” Leinenweber added. “It will not disturb this decision.”
     The court confirmed that Alcazar-Anselmo was wrongly fired because of her medical leave request. “Absent a serious professional or ethical violation by plaintiff, or a sudden shift in defendant’s budget, her sudden termination immediately prior to her requested leave is suspicious,” the judge ruled.
     Leinenweber then turned to Alcazar-Anselmo’s requests for interest on her jury award, liquidated damages, and reimbursement of attorneys’ fees and costs.
     With respect to her damages, “the FMLA provides that plaintiff is entitled to interest,” the judge said. “It is the norm in federal litigation to award compound prejudgment interest.
     Also, because Chicago did not prove that its FMLA violations were in good faith, the court required it to pay liquidated damages, increased the award to $178,952.
     So as to not “encourage protracted battles for attorneys’ fees,” the court did hold
     Chicago liable for all of the hours her lawyers worked on the case.
     “Despite the fact that plaintiff’s retaliation and interference claims are inextricably intertwined, her success on only the retaliation claim warrants a reduction in recoverable fees,” Leinenweber said. “The court finds that a 25 percent reduction is proper.”
     Alcazar-Anselmo will receive more than $237,000 for attorneys’ fees and costs, leaving Chicago on the hook for over $400,000 total.

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