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The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) and Verizon Services Corporation, which employs more than 7,000 people, agreed to settle a class action lawsuit challenging the company’s handling of family medical leave requests under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA).  The DFEH’s lawsuit against Verizon alleges that the company had several policies and procedures that resulted in a class of current and former employees who were improperly denied CFRA leave, were disciplined for absences that were CFRA qualifying, and/or were terminated for taking CFRA qualifying leave.

Although the DFEH did not specifically identify Verizon’s policies and practices that served as the basis for the lawsuit, the DFEH gave two examples of the company’s allegedly unlawful conduct.  First, Verizon required employees’ to provide more information to support their requests for CFRA leave than is necessary under the law.  When the employee failed to provide the additional information, Verizon improperly denied the requests.  Second, Verizon denied CFRA leave requests as untimely even though, in the DFEH’s view, the requests were timely made.

The lawsuit was brought after the DFEH’s Special Investigations Unit spent two years investigating Verizon’s CFRA’s practices.  The investigation was started after the DFEH received a number of complaints in 2008 from current and former Verizon employees accusing the company of violating their right to take family medical leave under the CFRA.  Verizon fully cooperated with the investigation and did not admit to any wrongdoing in the settlement. 

Under the terms of the settlement agreement, Verizon agreed to pay over six million dollars to current and former employees adversely affected by the company’s unlawful practices.  In addition, Verizon agreed to review and revise its leave policies and procedures.  The company also agreed to continue an existing internal review process employees can use to appeal denials of requested CFRA leave.  Finally, Verizon agreed to provide training to all California officers, managers, supervisors, and human resources personnel on the proper handling of CFRA requests.  According to the DFEH, the settlement is the largest in its history.

The settlement between the DFEH and Verizon did not receive much attention by the media or legal practitioners.  However, the settlement deserves notice because it serves as an important reminder to employers of the need to have a thorough understanding of the CFRA and how its application may affect other leave laws such as the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and California Pregnancy Disability Leave.  For example, new FMLA regulations went into effect in 2009.  However, existing CFRA regulations still refer to the 1995 version of the regulations.  Consequently, it is important for employers to understand the differences between the FMLA and CFRA.  In addition, employers should periodically review their leave policies and practices to make sure they comply with the current law, and provide training to all employees who handle leave requests on the proper handling of them.

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