Buffone v. Rosebud Restaurants
Pregnancy Discrimination and FMLA Act Case
On September 8, 2006, a federal jury in Chicago returned a $380,000 verdict against Rosebud Restaurants in a pregnancy discrimination and Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) case. According to the Cook County Jury Verdict Reporter, this was the second largest verdict in Chicago for a pregnancy and/or FMLA case.
Kristine Buffone, daughter-in-law of Chicago Bears great Doug Buffone, was employed by Rosebud in various capacities for approximately eight years. In September, 2002, Kristine was promoted to Manager of its Theater District Restaurant, located at 70 W. Madison Street. Kristine earned $30,000 annually with benefits. On June 10, 2003, Kristine announced to her supervisor, Yvonne Burke, that she was pregnant. Kristine testified that the Executive Chef at the restaurant stated that “no one wants to watch a pregnant woman while they are eating dinner – that is disgusting.” Burke later told Kristine that she was “getting big,” “getting too big, and that we have to get you out of here.” Kristine also testified that in 2001, Burke referred to two other female employees as having “crazy pregnant lady syndrome.”
Rosebud refused to schedule Kristine after July 7, 2003. In late September, 2003, she inquired of Nancy Krause, Executive Administrator of Human Resources, about insurance and benefits. Krause, who conceded at trial that she was aware of Kristine’s November 3, 2003 due date, told her to write and backdate two letters for July 1, 2003. The first letter requested FMLA leave from July 8, 2003 through September 30, 2003, and the second letter requested an additional month of medical leave, expiring on October 31, 2003 – prior to the time that Kristine was to deliver her baby. Kristine testified that it was her intention to work up until her due date, and then take leave.
On November 17, 2003, Kristine delivered her baby via C-section. Kristine started to call Rosebud corporate and Burke in December 2003, seeking to return to work in either late December, 2003 or early January, 2004. Burke told Kristine in January, 2004 that “they were full,” and that she “chose to have a family, and could not expect Robbie (her male replacement) to step aside.”
Kristine was asked to fill in for several part-time shifts as host and bartender in February, 2004 and did so. Kristine’s last work with the company was on February 14, 2004. The defense contended that Kristine quit in July, 2003. Kristine refuted that theory by offering evidence that she was placed on FMLA in July, 2003, that Defendant paid for her insurance during FMLA, and that an internal e-mail from the Payroll Manager to the Chief Financial Officer in September, 2003 stated that Kristine was on “maternity leave” and that she intended to return to work within six weeks after the delivery of her baby.
Rosebud also argued that Kristine wished to have her FMLA start on July 8, 2003. Kristine countered that argument with her testimony that she wished to work until her due date, and that since her husband was unemployed at that time, she needed the insurance and the benefits to support her family. Kristine’s attorneys used a timeline to aid the jury in understanding how Rosebud disregarded her employment rights.
The jury found in Kristine’s favor on her Pregnancy Discrimination Act Claim and her claim under the FMLA. The jury awarded Kristine $55,000 in back pay damages, $75,000 in compensatory damages, and $250,000 in punitive damages. Since the verdict, the trial judge has denied Rosebud’s Motion for a New Trial. Since the verdict, Judge Suzanne Conlon awarded Kristine an additional $55,000 in liquidated damages, and Magistrate Judge Sidney Schenkier recommended that Kristine should be awarded attorney’s fees against Rosebud in the sum of $148,000. With the total award likely to exceed $580,000, the case settled for a confidential sum while it was pending on appeal. Eugene Hollander and Paul Ryan, in his first federal jury trial, handled the proceedings.