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May 12, 11

NEWS / Division on Civil Rights Announces Settlement in Case of Welder Discharged After Taking Leave Time t

TRENTON – Division on Civil Rights Director Chinh Q. Le announced today that an Essex County metals company has paid a former employee $24,000 to resolve allegations it denied the woman leave time to be with her husband following his knee replacement surgery, then unlawfully retaliated against her for taking the time.

Under terms of the settlement agreement, United Support Solutions of Cedar Grove paid former company-employed welder Dorothy Williams $24,000, and paid the Division on Civil Rights for administrative costs related to the matter, and fees in lieu of a statutory penalty. The Division intervened in the case as a Complainant earlier this year.

Williams was hired as a welder by United Support Solutions, a metal works and parts manufacturer, in February 2007. She was terminated on March 16, 2010 after taking “unscheduled” days off to care for her husband, and after being reassigned to an evening work shift, which she alleged was in retaliation for taking the days off.

“This is a fair settlement that resolves troubling allegations of retaliation against an employee who took time off – as was her right -- to help care for her spouse in the wake of a major surgical procedure,” said Director Le. “It is important that companies know their obligation under the Family Leave Act, and that they help their employees – especially those with authority to approve or deny leave time – to understand the law as well.”

In anticipation of her husband’s surgery and subsequent convalescence – and unaware of her rights under the Family Leave Act – Dorothy Williams submitted a written request for vacation time to be with her husband between March 15 and March 19, 2010. That vacation request was granted. However, when Williams learned the operation on her husband was scheduled for March 10, Williams asked for that day off as well, and received approval.
Then on March 11, Williams’ husband experienced post-surgical complications. Williams called her supervisor that morning to report that she could not work because she needed to be at the hospital both that day and the next day, March 12.

Williams’ supervisor told a State investigator he did, in fact, speak with Williams on March 11. He said he advised Williams to contact the company office, because he was not authorized to approve more than one day of unscheduled absence. Williams, however, did not follow up because she believed her discussion with her supervisor had served as adequate notice of her need to take off March 11 and 12. (In addition, the office was closed at that hour.)

In the aftermath of Williams having taken two “unscheduled” days off on March 11 and March 12, United Support Solutions reassigned Williams to the company’s second work shift, which meant working from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. -- instead of her prior straight day shift of 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

A company management executive told the Division he contacted Williams by phone on March 15 – the first day of her approved vacation – to advise her of the reassignment. According to the executive, Williams rejected the move -- she denied doing so in an interview with a Division investigator – and was terminated the next day.

A Finding of Probable Cause, issued by the Division on Civil Rights in January of this year, found that United Support Solutions failed to meet its obligation to Williams under the Family Leave Act. Among other things, the Division found that, when Williams submitted her written request for “vacation” leave to care for her husband, the company had a duty to explain to her that she was entitled to take family leave time for the purpose instead.

The Division also found that Williams’ phone call to her supervisor the morning of March 11 – the morning of her husband’s post-surgical complications – was “reasonable oral notification of an emergent situation” under the law. Finally, the Division found that, despite an assertion by United Support Solutions that Williams was an employee with an erratic attendance record, the decision to reassign her to a later shift – a decision that led to her ultimate termination – was retaliatory.

Director Le thanked Division Investigator Barry Simmons, Newark Office Manager Lorraine LeSter, Legal Specialist Benn Meistrich and Conciliator Ana Limo-Magras for their work on the Williams/United Support Solutions matter.




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