NMSU TO PAY $710,730 IN SETTLEMENT PLUS NEW PAID LEAVE BENEFITS FOR FACULTY VALUED AT $16 MILLION
ALBUQUERQUE, NM, February 3, 2016 — The federal court for the District of New Mexico granted preliminary approval December 15, 2015 to the class action settlement of a Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) case brought by Dulcinea Lara, Ph.D., (a current tenured professor) on behalf of approximately 50 current and former 9-month faculty members against NMSU who had a newborn, adopted a child or had a foster child placed with them between April 29, 2011 and December 15, 2015.
The case, Lara, et. al. v. NMSU, et. al., No. 2:14-cv-00410 PJK/CG, alleged that NMSU faculty members were denied leave and discouraged from taking time off for the birth, adoption or placement for foster care of a child. Under the FMLA, covered employers must allow eligible employees up to 12 weeks per year of unpaid job-protected leave for the birth, adoption or foster placement of a child. The leave may be taken any time within the 12 months following the birth or placement.
The preliminarily approved settlement includes a monetary award of $710,730 and 12 weeks of paid leave for future FMLA events for class members. Class members will also receive between 6 and 12 weeks of pay, depending on the number of claimants. The settlement requires NMSU to take and report on certain actions for a three-year period, including mandatory training and postings. In addition, all 9-month faculty will immediately accrue up to 20 weeks of accrued paid leave (a non-cash value of $16 million), depending on their length of service. Approximately 800 current faculty members will benefit from the settlement. Prior to reaching this settlement, NMSU did not offer any paid leave benefits to 9-month faculty.
On January 11, 2016 the notice of class action settlement was issued to class members. Claim Forms must be submitted to the third-party settlement administrator (Settlement Services, Inc.,) by March 16, 2016 to receive compensation from the settlement proceeds. The notice and claim form may be obtained at www.NMSU-FMLALawsuit.com. A hearing on the motion for final approval of the settlement is presently scheduled for May 26, 2016 in the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico.
Employers with at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius are covered by FMLA. Eligible employees are those who have been employed for at least one year and worked at least 1250 hours in the previous year. Other qualifying FMLA-events include time off to care for a spouse, child or parent with a serious medical condition, the employee’s own serious medical condition, the qualifying exigencies arising from the military call-up of a family member; and up to 26 weeks of leave to care for an injured military service member who is the employee’s spouse, child, parent or next of kin.
The suit was brought by a local law firm with a strong record of fighting workplace wrongs. The firm, Moody & Stanford, PC, has successfully settled cases on behalf of classes of employees at Morgan Stanley, Augst-Johnson v. Morgan Stanley & Co., No. 1:06-CV-01142 (D.D.C. 2007) ($46 million settlement); and Wells Fargo Advisors, Carter v. Wachovia Securities/Wells Fargo Advisors, No. 1:09-cv-01752-CKK(D.D.C. 2010) ($32 million settlement).
Whitney Warner, lead counsel for the class, said today: “This is a major achievement for faculty at NMSU. Through courage and tenacity, Dr. Lara brought to light the hardships faced by faculty members who have a new child and obtained significant paid leave benefits for a large group of employees who previously had no paid leave benefits.”
Dr. Lara said, “It is a great comfort to know that my colleagues and I will have the time to bond with our new children and to care for ourselves and our family members from now on. All of us are better off.”
Repps Stanford, lead counsel added that, “We are pleased to end this journey on a positive note for NMSU faculty members, and we congratulate the University on engaging in constructive dialogue to resolve the matter rather than pursuing an expensive scorched earth litigation process.”