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Attorney faces retaliation after leave to care for pregnant wife

An attorney is suing his former employer, a multinational law firm, after being fired for what his boss characterized as "personal reasons." The lawsuit alleges that he was in fact fired for taking time off to care for his wife, who was pregnant and suffering from mental illness.

Under federal law, employees are entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year to care for themselves or an immediately family member in the event of an illness. Time off under the Family Medical Leave Act also includes time off to care for a new baby.

In this case, the employee took an emergency leave after his pregnant wife attempted to commit suicide. Later that year, he took four weeks of paternity leave to care for the baby.

During that time period, the attorney was working out of his firm's office in Munich, Germany. Attorneys working in that location have a generally lighter workload than those working in the United States, and as a result the firm did not require the same number of billable hours per year. Still, the man attempted to maintain his same standard of performance although he was ultimately not given enough work to bill the number of hours that year that would have been expected of an employee in the U.S.

When he arrived back at one of the firm's East Coast offices, he was assigned to work with a colleague who was hostile towards him, according to the lawsuit. He was terminated shortly after receiving a negative performance review from that person, who also cited "personal reasons" for his dismissal.

A federal judge ruled that this conduct may have constituted retaliation for the man's FMLA leave to care for his wife and child. Firing someone for exercising their right to leave under the FMLA is illegal, and employers are liable for lost wages and other damages if retaliation is found.

Source: Courthouse News Service, "Ex-Dechert Lawyer Has a Case for Unfair Firing," Lorraine Bailey, Oct. 22, 2012.

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