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Brown v. Nutrition Management Services Co.

January 21, 2009

MELISSA BROWN
v.
NUTRITION MANAGEMENT SERVICES CO., SCOTT MURRAY AND KAREN ZYWALEWSKI



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Norma L. Shapiro, J.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Melissa Brown filed this action against Nutrition Management Services Co. ("Nutrition Management"), New Courtland Elder Services ("New Courtland"), Scott Murray and Karen Zywalewski for sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a) ("Title VII"), sex discrimination under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, Pa. Stat. Ann. tit. 43, §§ 951 et seq. ("PHRA"), and unlawful interference with her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601 et seq. ("FMLA"). A jury awarded Brown $74,000 in back pay as damages under the FMLA and found no liability under Title VII; the PHRA claim was dismissed before trial. The court entered judgment accordingly. Brown filed a timely post-trial motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59 (e) to amend the judgment to include an award of $6,655.82 in pre-judgment interest on the award of back pay, $80,655.82 in liquidated damages and $115,826.40 in front pay. Brown's motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND

In November 2002, Brown was hired as the food service director of Plymouth House, a nursing home in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania. In August 2004, New Courtland, the owner of Plymouth House, contracted with Nutrition Management to manage certain aspects of the food service. Nutrition Management hired Brown, who continued to serve as food service director at Plymouth House. In October 2004, Brown was terminated after informing Nutrition Management that she was pregnant. Brown, claiming her termination unlawfully interfered with her right to take leave under the FMLA, filed suit against Nutrition Management, two of its senior employees and New Courtland. A jury found Brown was eligible for leave under the FMLA and that Nutrition Management had interfered with her rights under the FMLA; Zywalewski and Murray were found not liable.

II. DISCUSSION

A court may grant a motion to amend the judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59 (e) if the moving party shows one of the following: (1) an intervening change in the controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence that was not available when the court issued its order; or (3) the need to correct a clear error of law or fact or to prevent manifest injustice. Johnson v. Diamond State Port Corp., 50 Fed. Appx. 554, 560 (3d Cir. 2002). Brown claims she is entitled to additional awards for pre-judgment interest, liquidated damages and front pay as a matter of law.

A. Pre-Judgment Interest

Brown claims she is entitled to an award of pre-judgment interest under the FMLA. Nutrition Management argues that Brown has requested both liquidated damages and pre- judgment interest, and that she is entitled only to one or the other.

The FMLA provides that any employer who violates the FMLA shall be liable to the employee for damages equal to the amount of: (i) "any wages, salary, employment benefits, or other compensation denied or lost to such employee by reason of the violation;" (ii) "the interest on the amount described in clause (i) calculated at the prevailing rate;" and (iii) "an additional amount as liquidated damages equal to the sum of the amount described in clause (i) and the interest described in clause (ii)." 29 U.S.C. § 2617 (a). The plain language of the FMLA entitles a prevailing party to both pre-judgment interest and liquidated damages. While the Third Circuit Court of Appeals has not considered the matter, other courts of appeals have held that the FMLA entitles the prevailing party to both pre-judgment interest and liquidated damages. In Taylor v. Invacare Corp., 64 Fed. Appx. 516, 524 (6th Cir. 2003), the court, affirming the judgment of the district court awarding back pay, pre-judgment interest and liquidated damages, stated, "The FMLA provides for liquidated damages equal to back pay and interest." Id. at 521.

Nutrition Management cites Martin v. Cooper Electric Supply Co., 940 F.2d 896 (3d Cir. 1991), in support of its argument that a prevailing party under the FMLA cannot recover both pre-judgment interest and liquidated damages. In Martin, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals held that the plaintiff could not recover pre-judgment interest and liquidated damages under the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. 201 et seq. The remedial provision of the FLSA provides for recovery of liquidated damages, but not pre-judgment interest. See 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). Martin does not apply to the liquidated damages provision of the FMLA. Brown is entitled to pre-judgment interest under the FMLA. It would be a clear error of law for the court not to amend the judgment to include such interest.

Brown requests an award of interest in the amount of $6,655.82, an amount determined by applying the federal post-judgment rates under 28 U.S.C. § 1961. "In federal question cases, the rate of prejudgment interest is committed to the discretion of the district court." Sun Ship, Inc. v. Matson Navigation Co., 785 F.2d 59, 63 (3d Cir. 1986). The court may be guided by the rate set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 1961. Sun Ship, Inc., 785 F.2d at 63. Other courts within this circuit have generally followed this approach. Anderson v. CONRAIL, 2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15978, *13 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 25, 2000) (Bartle, C.J.). The judgment will be amended to include an award of interest in the amount of $6,655.82.

B. Liquidated Damages

The FMLA provides that a prevailing party is entitled to liquidated damages equal to the amount of damages awarded for lost compensation plus interest unless the defendant's "act or omission which violated [29 U.S.C. § 2615] was in good faith and [the defendant] had reasonable grounds for believing that the act or omission was not a violation . . .." 29 U.S.C. § 2617(a)(1)(A)(iii). The FMLA does not define "good faith" and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals has not considered the matter yet. Congress intended many of the FMLA's remedial provisions to mirror those in the FLSA. See Frizzell v. Southwest Motor Freight, 154 F.3d 641, 644 (6th Cir.1998) ("[T]he legislative history of the FMLA reveals that Congress intended the remedial provisions of the FMLA to mirror those in the FLSA . . .."). "Both the FMLA and the FLSA provide that an employer 'shall' be liable for damages and liquidated damages and that the district court 'may' reduce the amount of liquidated damages if good faith is established. See 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) (providing damages under FLSA); id. at § 260 (providing good faith defense to [an award of] liquidated damages under FLSA); id. at § 2617(a) (FMLA)." Arban v. West Publ'g Corp., 345 F.3d 390, 407-408 (6th Cir. 2003). We are guided by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals' interpretation of the analogous provision of the FLSA.

Reasonable good faith requires a defendant to take affirmative steps to ascertain the requirements of the law. Martin, 940 F.2d at 908-909 (reversing district court's denial of liquidated damages under the FLSA). "A defendant employer's burden of proof is a difficult one to meet. Double damages are the ...


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