Submitted: December 17, 2015
from United States District Court for the Western District of
Missouri - Joplin
MURPHY, BENTON, and KELLY, Circuit Judges.
America, Inc. d/b/a American Standard Brands (ASB) denied
Thomas Smith's request for intermittent Federal Medical
Leave Act (FMLA) leave and fired him after he missed work.
Following a bench trial, the district court found ASB
violated Smith's rights under the FMLA and awarded Smith
actual and liquidated damages, attorney's fees, expenses,
and prejudgment interest. ASB appeals the court's
decision regarding liability and its awards of liquidated
damages and attorney's fees. Jamie Smith cross-appeals the
district court's finding limiting the amount of her
damages under the after-acquired evidence doctrine. Having
jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we affirm the
district court's decision regarding liability, liquidated
damages, and attorney's fees. Because we find the
district court made a clearly erroneous factual finding as to
ASB under the after-acquired evidence doctrine, however, we
reverse and remand the court's decision limiting damages.
Smith worked at the ASB plant in Nevada, Missouri. His job
required him to manually lift porcelain toilet bowls, tanks,
urinals, and sinks on and off the kiln and refire carts. The
bowls weighed an average of fifty pounds and the tanks
weighed around twenty-five pounds. His shift ran from 11:00
p.m. to 7:00 a.m. Friday through Tuesday, and he was off on
Wednesdays and Thursdays. ASB employees are fired when they
reach 8 absences in a twelve-month period under ASB's
no-fault attendance policy.
January 2011, Smith missed three days of work due to
sinusitis and lower back pain. He went to an urgent care
clinic and was prescribed muscle relaxants and advised to get
physical therapy. Smith applied for FMLA leave and submitted
a certification form that had been completed by a nurse
practioner at the clinic. Smith's absentee records for
January 9 through 11 contain a notation "FMLA per C.
Morris"and his absence was recorded as FMLA leave.
Friday, February 5, 2011, before his shift started, Smith
hurt his back plowing snow. That night, he reported to work
but left early due to back pain. On Saturday, February 6, and
Sunday, February 7, Smith called ASB to report he could not
work but that his absence should be covered by the
intermittent FMLA leave granted in January.
went to the urgent care clinic on Monday, February 7, and saw
a nurse practitioner. He was advised to take
anti-inflammatory drugs and the muscle relaxants he had been
prescribed in January and to get physical therapy. He was
also given a note from the nurse practioner to submit to ASB.
The note stated: "Patient seen in clinic 2/7/11. Please
excuse from 2/8/11 & needs FMLA form to be completed for
lumbar strain." Smith called ASB before his next shift
started to report that he would be absent and that the
absence should be covered by the intermittent FMLA leave
approved in January.
Tuesday, February 8, 2011, Smith went to the ASB plant to
submit the note from the nurse practioner. Jackie
met with him and gave him documents assessing him three
points for leaving his February 6 shift early and missing his
February 7 and 8 shifts. She also gave him a document dated
February 8, 2011, that purportedly denied his January request
for FMLA leave. ASB then fired Smith for having 8 absences.
February 11, 2011, Smith submitted a new application for FMLA
leave and an FMLA certification form filled out by the clinic
nurse practitioner. The certification form noted Smith had
been prescribed muscle relaxants for a thoracolumbar spasm
and referred for physical therapy. ASB did not request any
additional information from Smith concerning his February 11
FMLA application but did not grant him FMLA leave and did not
reinstate him. Smith then sued ASB, claiming wrongful
interference with his FMLA rights.
Thomas Smith's deposition, ASB learned that he had been
arrested and jailed on July 13, 2011. The parties disputed
when Smith was released from jail and how many absences he
would have accrued as a result of being jailed had he still
been employed at ASB. Following trial, the court found ASB
proved that Smith had not been released from jail until July
20, 2011, and thus would have reached 8 absences on July 20,
2011. The court awarded Jamie Smith $13, 865.84 in lost pay
up to July 20, 2011, and $13, 865.84 in liquidated damages.
The court also granted Smith $159, 944.66 in attorney's
fees and costs.
FMLA entitles an eligible employee to twelve weeks of unpaid
leave during any twelve-month period for a "serious
health condition that makes the employee unable to perform
the functions of the position of such employee." 29
U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1)(D). To succeed on a claim of FMLA
interference, an employee must show she was eligible for FMLA
leave, the employer knew she needed FMLA leave, and the
employer denied her an FMLA benefit to which she was
entitled. Hasenwinkel v. Mosaic, 809 F.3d 427, 432
(8th Cir. 2015). FMLA interference includes "refusing ...