Terminated for theft, hospital employee sues under FMLA

Michelle Massey, East Texas Bureau Jun. 10, 2009, 5:59am

TEXARKANA, Ark. � Although the woman's former employer says she was fired because a surveillance video showed her stealing, a hospital employee claims the real reason for her termination was the amount of time she took off for a medical condition.

Claiming violations of the Federal Medical Leave Act, Regina Terwilliger filed a lawsuit against Howard Memorial Hospital, Quorum Health Resources LLC, Kim Howard and Gayla Lacefield on June 8 in the Texarkana Division of the Western District of Arkansas.

Hired to work in the kitchen of the Nashville, Ark., hospital in February 2007, Terwilliger states she told her employers that she had fibromyalgia that would limit her work activities.

In the fall of 2008, the plaintiff injured her back. She took prescribed medication for a few weeks but doctors informed her that the injury would require surgery.

Terwilliger states that when she told her direct supervisor that she would be unable to continue work, she was told to "take another pill."

The head of the hospital's human relations department informed Terwilliger of her rights under FMLA. Shortly thereafter, the plaintiff began her FMLA leave.

According to the lawsuit, during Terwilliger's recovery from surgery, her supervisors repeatedly contacted her to determine when she would be able to return to work. Due to the pressure, Terwilliger states she returned to work one week before she was required to under law.

Less than a month after her return, Terwilliger was terminated. The supervisors claimed that she had committed theft that they had recorded on videotape. Terwilliger denies the theft and argues that the defendants have produced no videotape.

The lawsuit asserts the defendants interfered and denied the plaintiff her full benefits under the FMLA. Further, the plaintiff alleges that she was retaliated against and wrongfully terminated for exercising her rights under the FMLA.

"Defendants falsely accused plaintiff of theft, without evidence of proof, as a pretextual reason for her termination," the lawsuit states.

The plaintiff is seeking damages for back pay, front pay, lost benefits, liquidated damages, interest and attorney's fees.

Terwilliger is seeking a trial by jury.

U.S. District Judge Harry F. Barnes will preside over the litigation.

Case No 4:2009cv04055

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