Disappointing Outcome for California FMLA Plaintiff


San Bernardino, CA: In somewhat of a curious outcome to a California FMLA and harassment lawsuit, a jury has found in favor of the City of Redlands in a lawsuit brought by a former employee who alleged discrimination and harassment by the City and a City employee.

A report published in the San Bernardino Sun (09/23/16), outlined the crux of plaintiff Christine Smith’s lawsuit. Smith, a former employee in the Quality of Life Department with the City, had taken leave from her job for circumstances supported by the Family Medical Leave Act. The specific circumstances were not outlined in the published report. However, there appeared to be no dispute with her qualifications for taking leave under FMLA.

It’s what happened when she returned from her absence in October, 2012 that formed the primary basis of her lawsuit. In her litigation, Smith alleged that her supervisor, identified as Quality of Life Department Director Fred Cardenas, demoted Smith from her position as fleet services administrative coordinator upon her first day back from her FMLA leave of absence. Smith also alleged in her lawsuit that she felt bullied, intimidated and isolated to the point where she felt the need to take stress leave on two occasions, in November 2012 and again in June, 2013.

She launched her lawsuit in September, 2013 seeking compensation for pain, suffering and lost wages.

Things began to appear they would be going south for the plaintiff when, in August, the judge in the case granted a motion by the defendant to dismiss the plaintiff’s claims of harassment and discrimination related to disability, failure by the city to accommodate her disability and constructive termination.

Then, earlier this month the jury returned a verdict favoring the defendant, finding the City of Redlands did not retaliate against the plaintiff for taking leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. The jury also determined that the City of Redlands, in deference to the plaintiff’s allegations, did not fail to prevent the harassment alleged in the case, did not discriminate or retaliate, and did not terminate Smith from her job wrongfully.
The day prior, in a separate verdict, the jury found that the City of Redlands did not interfere with Smith’s rights under the Family Medical Leave Act.

In conducting a post mortem on the case, Smith’s FMLA attorneys noted that the plaintiff’s entire case hinged on the FMLA claims. An attorney, who spoke to jurors following the outcome of the proceedings, noted that jurors understood that “a lot of things happened to Christine that shouldn’t have.” The attorney also noted that they understood and believed that Fred Cardenas, the supervisor, “was a bad actor. What they did not believe was it was because she took FMLA leave and our entire case flowed from that.”

The California FMLA lawsuit is Christine Smith v. City of Redlands et al., Case No. CIVDS 1311312, San Bernardino Superior Court.

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