4th Circuit Upholds Large FMLA Judgment Against Pfizer

This week in Dotson v. Pfizer the Fourth Circuit upheld a massive judgment in a Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) case involving adoption-related leave by an employee who took time off to adopt a child from Russia and who was later fired. Dotson claimed FMLA retaliation. He prevailed in a jury trial, and the district court awarded him over $660k in damages (compensatory and statutory liquidated) plus $389k in attorney fees and costs--a total judgment topping $1 million.

Pfizer made three arguments on appeal, none of which carried the day. First, it argued that the FMLA doesn't provide for the type of intermittent adoption-related leave that Dotson took (he took pre-adoption intermittent leave, and Pfizer claimed it didn't approve that). Second, Pfizer argued that a rational jury couldn't hold Pfizer liable for retaliating against Dotson for exercising his FMLA rights, because Dotson didn't request FMLA leave. On that issue, the Fourth Circuit held that employees don't need to invoke the FMLA in order to benefit from its protections. Third, Pfizer argued that Dotson couldn't show retaliatory animus by the persons who decided to fire him and that there was no evidence that the firing was pretextual.

Dotson is actually going to collect even more money, because he prevailed on his cross-appeal to recover pre-judgment interest (the district court had denied pre-judgment interest).