Two local businesses sued over FMLA benefits
By Teresa Auch Schultz email@example.com September 14, 2012 2:36PM
Updated: October 17, 2012 6:32AM
Two local residents say in separate federal lawsuits their employers punished them for trying to use earned leave for medical reasons.
The two lawsuits, filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court in Hammond, claim that Valparaiso University and Prompt Medical Transportation Inc. both tried to deny the women, whose cases are not connected, the leave and in one case fired the employee.
Sherry Bastien, of Valparaiso, says in her suit that she worked for the university’s Dining Services Department for about 20 years until 2010, when she found out her fiance had terminal cancer and had two to four months to live. According to the suit, she asked her supervisor, Kristi Rensberger, about taking time off to look after her fiance. Rensberger told her she could use vacation time until the couple married two weeks later and afterward Bastien could use time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Bastien claims in the suit that Rensberger approved her request for vacation time and Rensberger was always the one to approve her vacation schedule. However, five days after her wedding on Sept. 11, 2010, Rensberger was told by Anthony Coschignano, director of the department, that she was fired because the vacation time she used had never been approved, the lawsuit claims.
Bastien’s attorney, Marissa McDermott, called that reason a “lie,” saying the university used it to avoid giving Bastien the FMLA leave that she had earned.
“Miss Bastien was going through probably one of the lowest points of her life,” McDermott said. “She asked for rights she was entitled to and after 20 years was just shown the door.”
Bastien, who is still unemployed, wants to ensure the university doesn’t do this to another employee, McDermott said. She is asking for back wages, lost benefits, front pay and damages.
A representative for the university could not be reached for comment.
In the second lawsuit, Porter County resident Brenda Penfold claims Prompt fired her after she was injured in a motorcycle accident in September 2010. The company at first refused to grant her any FMLA leave although it did eventually grant her intermittent leave that October, according to her suit.
However, in December 2010, the company told her it was eliminating her position, which she protested. The company then gave her a lower-paying position and tried to end her health benefits. Penfold was also harassed for having to go to medical appointments, according to the lawsuit, and the company wouldn’t let her change her schedule although other employees were allowed to.
Penfold met with the owner, Gary Miller, in June 2012 to complain about the harassment, and he told her he would take charge of her FMLA leave. The harassment continued, however, and she finally quit, although the lawsuit does not say when.
She is asking for damages and front and back pay.
Neither Penfold’s attorney, Teresa Massa, nor Prompt commented on the lawsuit.