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Christos v. Halker Consulting, LLC

United States District Court, D. Colorado

November 1, 2018

JENNIFER CHRISTOS, Plaintiff,
v.
HALKER CONSULTING, LLC, Defendant.

          ORDER

          PHILIP A. BRIMMER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Equitable Relief [Docket No. 121].

         A three-day jury trial was held on April 23-25, 2018. Docket Nos. 102, 103, 104. On April 27, 2018, the jury returned a verdict in favor of plaintiff on her FMLA interference claim and awarded $1, 296 in damages. Docket No. 112. On June 22, 2018, plaintiff filed the instant motion requesting that the Court award plaintiff pre-judgment interest and liquidated damages pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 2617. See Docket No. 121.

         I. PREJUDGMENT INTEREST

         Plaintiff requests prejudgment interest at the state statutory rate of 8% per annum compounded annually. See Docket No. 121 at 3; see also Colo. Rev. Stat. § 5-12-102(b). Defendant argues that this rate is inappropriate and that the Court should use the statutory rate derived from 28 U.S.C. § 1961. See Docket No. 122 at 1. According to defendant, that rate is 2.34%. Id. at 2.[1]

         The FMLA provides that a plaintiff may recover interest on an award of back pay “at the prevailing rate.” 29 U.S.C. § 2617(a)(1)(A)(ii). However, the statute does not define “prevailing rate, ” and courts have taken a variety of approaches to calculating prejudgment interest. See, e.g., Bell v. Prefix, Inc., 500 Fed.Appx. 473, 474 (6th Cir. 2012) (unpublished) (collecting cases); Lusk v. Virginia Panel Corp., 2014 WL 3900325, at *5 (W.D. Va. Aug. 11, 2014) (noting that district courts “have variously utilized (1) the state statutory rate, (2) the IRS prime rate, and (3) the federal post-judgment interest rate set by 28 U.S.C. § 1961” to calculate prejudgment interest under the FMLA). The parties do not cite any Tenth Circuit authority resolving the issue. Nor do they articulate any reasoned basis for applying one methodology over another. In the absence of such guidance, the Court is persuaded by the approach taken in Smothers v. Solvay Chemicals, Inc., 2014 WL 12665068 (D. Wyo. Sept. 15, 2014). There, the court determined that the federal prime rate satisfied the purposes of the FMLA and reflected an adequate compromise between the 6% state statutory rate and the 0.10% rate derived from 28 U.S.C. § 1961(a). See Id. at *4 (noting that the federal prime rate of 3.25% would “sufficiently meet the purposes of the FMLA without making the rate punitive”); see also Gutierrez v. Grant Cty., 2011 WL 5279017, at *1 (E.D. Wash. Nov. 2, 2011) (finding that federal prime rate would satisfy the compensatory purposes of the FMLA).[2] The Court finds that the prime rate would satisfy the compensatory purposes of the FMLA while striking a reasonable balance between the positions taken by the parties. Moreover, this approach appears to accord with the “prevailing trend among recent FMLA decisions.” Lusk, 2014 WL 3900325, at *5.

         The average federal prime rate for the period beginning on May 1, 2015 - the date of plaintiff's layoff - through the present was 3.94%.[3] Applying this interest rate, compounded annually, plaintiff is entitled to $128.29 in prejudgment interest through October 31, 2018. See, e.g., Neel v. Mid-Atlantic of Fairfield, LLC, 2012 WL 3264965, at *12 (D. Md. Aug. 9, 2012) (awarding prejudgment interest at the federal prime rate “for the years in question, ” compounded annually); E.E.O.C. v. Serv. Temps, 2010 WL 5108733, at *6 (N.D. Tex. Dec. 9, 2010) (awarding prejudgment interest at federal prime rate, compounded annually, from date of adverse employment action through date of judgment).[4]

         II. LIQUIDATED DAMAGES

         Plaintiff seeks an award of liquidated damages under 29 U.S.C. § 2617(a)(1)(A)(iii). That section provides that an employer who violates the FMLA shall be liable for liquidated damages in an amount equal to the sum of lost wages and prejudgment interest unless the employer “proves to the satisfaction of the court that the act or omission which violated [the FMLA] was in good faith and that the employer had reasonable grounds for believing that the act or omission was not a violation.” 29 U.S.C. § 2617(a)(1)(A)(iii). In such circumstances, a court may, in its discretion, “reduce the amount of the liability.” Id. However, courts have recognized that there is a strong presumption in favor of awarding liquidated damages. See, e.g., Jackson v. City of Hot Springs, 751 F.3d 855, 866 (8th Cir. 2014); Thom v. Am. Standard, Inc., 666 F.3d 968, 973 (6th Cir. 2012).

         The Court finds that there is no basis for reducing defendant's liability in this case. The parties agreed to submit the question of defendant's good faith to the jury. The jury found that defendant had not “proved, by a preponderance of the evidence, that it acted in good faith and with reasonable grounds for believing that plaintiff's termination did not violate the FMLA.” Docket No. 112 at 3. Although the jury's finding is not binding on the Court, see Jackson, 751 F.3d at 866, defendant offers no reason - and the Court perceives none - to depart from the jury's determination on the issue. Accordingly, plaintiff will be awarded liquidated damages in the amount of $1, 424.29, which is equal to the jury's award of $1, 296.00 plus prejudgment interest.

         III. CONCLUSION

         For the foregoing reasons, and pursuant to the jury's verdict on April 27, 2018, it is

         ORDERED that plaintiff is awarded $1, 296.00 in unpaid wages, salary, and employment benefits. It is further

         ORDERED that plaintiff is awarded $128.29 in prejudgment interest through ...


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