First, Gabriela has two claims: (1) interference with attempts to take FMLA leave and (2) FMLA retaliation. A claim of FMLA interference is just what it sounds like. An employer cannot interfere with an employee's efforts to take FMLA leave. In this instance, Marcy is clearly hostile to Gabriela's efforts to take leave and discourages her from doing so. She intentionally interfered with Gabriela's efforts to take FMLA leave even though she ultimately granted her some leave.
Gabriela's claim of FMLA retaliation is also strong. Specifically, it certainly seems like Marcy set out to fire Gabriela because she took FMLA leave to care for her son. The company likely will argue that it legally fired Gabriela based on an incident with a customer. But the facts of this case suggest that this is what courts call "pretext." That is, the company is using the incident with the customer as a cover for firing Gabriela, when the real reason for her termination was the fact that she took FMLA leave. Evidence that the company's cited reason for her termination was false is that the incident with the customer took place months before she was fired. The company only acted after Gabriela took leave. Moreover, based on the regional manager's comments, it sounds like Marcy made up the story that Gabriela lied about the incident. But the truth was that Marcy would not even allow Gabriela to explain what happened. She could not have lied even if she wanted to.
One other matter that the company may try to hide behind is the fact that it was the regional manager, not Marcy, who made the decision to fire Gabriela. In essence, the company will argue: "Well, even if Marcy arguably wanted to discriminate against Gabriela, she didn't make the termination decision." This is called the "cat's paw theory." This derives from a fable in which a monkey tricks a cat into scooping some chestnuts from the burning embers of a fire. The cat does so, burning its paw. The monkey then takes off, chestnuts in hand. In this context, the idea is that the regional manager fired Gabriela even though he had no discriminatory motive. Rather, he was duped by Marcy into firing Gabriela. Some courts have thankfully stopped these maneuvers by disallowing cat's paw tactics. Thus, here, the company will be liable because it is apparent that the regional manager relied solely on Marcy's account in deciding to fire Gabriela. (The company might win on this point if it could show that the regional manager made the decision after conducting his own independent investigation, even if Marcy had initially raised the issue. But it is clear here that the manager simply relied on Marcy's untruthful account in making his decision. And now the company is going to get burned!)
Gabriela's Potential Damages
What does Gabriela get if she sues and wins? She would be entitled to get "lost wages" and reinstatement or "front pay." Lost wages are the amount of money that she would have earned had she stayed employed. For the sake of easy math, let's say Gabriela made $5,000 per month and, by the time her case went to trial, she was out of work for a year. So, $5,000 times 12 is $60,000. She would also be entitled to interest on this amount.
Gabriela might also be eligible for front pay. Front pay is wages she would have earned after the judgment. Let's assume in this case that Gabriela got another job after a year, but it only paid $4,000 per month. As front pay, Gabriela would be entitled to the difference between what she would have made and what she currently makes for some time out into the future. Here, Gabriela is out $1,000 per month, or $12,000 per year. If a court awards her two years' front pay, she gets two times $12,000, or an additional $24,000. (The amount of front pay is generally up to the court to determine. Front pay awards are usually in the range of two to five years, though courts can award more or less than these amounts.) So, Gabriela here would be eligible for $60,000 plus $24,000, or $84,000.
One great aspect of FMLA is that it allows for something called "liquidated damages." These damages are added to punish a company for bad behavior. A court can award liquidated damages by doubling the underlying award. In this case, that bumps Gabriela's award up to $168,000. A company can avoid liquidated damages by arguing that, even if it violated the law, it had a good faith belief that it was not acting illegally. That would be tough for the company to get by with here given Marcy's blatant behavior.
Another plus to the FMLA is that employees who sue and win are entitled to an award of attorneys' fees. Sweet justice. This means that the company will have to pay its attorneys and Gabriela's! Unless Gabriela's fee agreement provides otherwise, she will get to keep her $168,000 (minus what the IRS will take).
Unfortunately, Gabriela cannot recover damages for pain and suffering under the FMLA, although she would have been able to under other discrimination statutes. If this were a sex-discrimination lawsuit, she could. She also cannot recover for other losses. For instance, she won't be able to get the company to pay for the loss of her home and other associated costs.