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Williams v. Illinois Dep't of Corrections

August 13, 2007

PAUL A. WILLIAMS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Phil Gilbert District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This matter comes before the Court on plaintiff Paul A. Williams ("Williams") motion for interest, liquidated damages, attorney's fees and costs (Doc. 37). The defendant Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC") has responded to the motion (Doc. 43).

I. Facts and Procedural History

This case arose after Williams, who had worked as a youth supervisor for IDOC, resigned from his position. In the fall of 2004, Williams's mother became ill and Williams determined that he needed to care for her for an undetermined period of time. Williams met with his supervisor, Warden William Kilquist ("Kilquist") about his situation, and Williams asserts that Kilquist told him falsely that if he wanted to take care of his mother, his only option was to resign. Following the meeting Williams resigned from his position. Williams later asked that his resignation be rescinded and that he be allowed to use his leave rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq, but IDOC refused to honor this request. Williams filed this lawsuit charging that IDOC, through Kilquist's representations at his private meeting with Williams, interfered with his right to take FMLA leave and that that improper interference induced him to resign, all in violation of the FMLA. The case was tried to a jury on May 1 and 2, 2007, and the jury rendered a verdict for Williams in the amount of $22,000 for lost wages and benefits. Williams now seeks interest, liquidated damages, attorneys fees and costs under 29 U.S.C. § 2617..

II. Interest

The FMLA provides that an employer who violates the act shall be liable for interest on lost wages and benefits calculated at the prevailing rate. 29 U.S.C. § 2617(a)(1)(A)(ii). The plaintiff has calculated the interest amount of $2,277.87, and IDOC does not contest that calculation. Therefore, the Court will award prejudgment interest in the amount of $2,277.87.

III. Liquidated Damages

The FMLA provides that an employer who violates the act shall be liable for liquidated damages equal to the sum of the employee's lost wages and benefits and the interest on that award unless the employer "proves to the satisfaction of the court that the act or omission which violated section 2615 of this title was in good faith and that the employer had reasonable grounds for believing that the act or omission was not a violation of" the FMLA. 29 U.S.C. § 2617(a)(1)(A)(iii). The employer bears the burden of proving it acted in good faith and that its beliefs were reasonable. Nero v. Industrial Molding Corp., 167 F.3d 921, 928 (5th Cir. 1999); see Shea v. Galaxie Lumber & Constr. Co., Ltd., 152 F.3d 729, 733 (7th Cir. 1998) (discussing an analogous liquidated damages provision under the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 260). If the employer makes such a showing, the Court has the discretion to reduce the award to reflect only the lost wages, benefits and interest, but it is not required to do so. 29 U.S.C. § 2617(a)(1)(A)(iii); Nero, 167 F.3d at 929. However, the Court's discretion "'must be exercised consistently with the strong presumption under the statute in favor of doubling.'" Nero, 167 F.3d at 929 (quoting Shea , 152 F.3d at 733). Williams requests liquidated damages in the amount of $22,277.87. IDOC asks the Court to find that its actions were in good faith and reduce the damage award by the liquidated damages amount or, in the alternative, to hold a hearing on the issue.

The Court has carefully reviewed the evidence at trial, finds that it was sufficient to establish the relevant evidence and finds that IDOC did not act in good faith. While the Court believes that Kilquist's incorrect statement to Williams that resigning was his only option was likely a product of Kilquist's ignorance about the FMLA, IDOC had an opportunity to remedy Kilquist's misrepresentation when Williams asked IDOC to rescind his resignation and allow him to take FMLA leave. IDOC's position that it was not obligated to give Williams FMLA leave because he did not meet the technical requirements of filing a proper request was an unreasonable response where the deficiencies in his request were a product of its own warden's misrepresentations. Furthermore, IDOC bears the responsibility for educating its wardens about the contours of FMLA rights, which it obviously failed to do adequately in Kilquist's case. IDOC's conduct can in no way be described as in good faith and its response to Williams cannot be construed as reasonable in light of IDOC's obligations under the FMLA.

IDOC argues that it acted in good faith by informing Williams repeatedly of his FMLA rights. While the Court applauds those efforts and finds that they indeed were a good faith effort to educate its employees, those efforts cannot overcome Kilquist's explicit misrepresentations upon which Williams relied in resigning and IDOC's failure to remedy that wrongfully induced resignation.

Even if IDOC had acted in good faith and with a reasonable belief it was not violating the FMLA, the Court would not exercise its discretion to reduce the liquidated damages award. Nothing IDOC has presented overcomes the presumption of doubling Williams's damage award.

For these reasons, the Court will award Williams liquidated damages in the amount of $22,277.87.

IV. Attorney's Fees and Costs

In addition to a damages award, a plaintiff who obtains a judgment in an FMLA case is entitled to "a reasonable attorney's fee, reasonable expert witness fees, and other costs of the action." 29 U.S.C. ยง 2617(a)(3). Williams requests attorney's fees in the amount of $19,044.50 and costs in the amount of $781.96. IDOC asks the Court to ...


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