Former ED director wins lawsuit against county

Published 2:31 pm Saturday, August 26, 2017

A judge has ordered Isle of Wight County to pay nearly $750,000 to its former director of economic development, Lisa Perry, after ruling that it had violated the Family and Medical Leave Act by not allowing her to resume her position following her recovery from an injury.

The ruling was given on Aug. 10 in Norfolk’s federal district court, awarding Perry a total of $747,320.66 after finding in favor of the plaintiff’s right to reinstatement under the FMLA. The FMLA, passed in 1993, guarantees employees job protection and unpaid leave for qualified medical and family reasons.

Perry had filed the suit in 2015 with representation by James H. Shoemaker Jr., an attorney with the Newport News-based firm Patten, Wornom, Hatten and Diamonstein, after county officials told her on Aug. 4, 2014, that she would not be allowed to return to work. She had been on medical leave since June 27, 2014, after injuring her shoulder in May.

According to The Tidewater News’ coverage of Perry’s separation from the county in 2014, then-Windsor District Board of Supervisors representative Delores “Dee Dee” Darden said at the time that Perry was due back at work on Friday, Aug. 1, but did not show up or let anyone know why. Darden had added that the county’s medical leave policy requires employees to return to work on the agreed date, and that not doing so meant the job would not be held. Perry’s last day of leave had been originally scheduled to be Thursday, July 31.

Shoemaker explained that Perry’s letter to the county informing them of her initial medical leave had stated that she projected her last day of leave would be July 31 if her doctor approves.

“And he didn’t approve it; he told her to come back on the fourth [of August],” Shoemaker said.

Perry took her doctor’s advice and as a result, on Aug. 4, was told that by virtue of not coming in on Friday or notifying staff of the change, she had voluntarily resigned her position.

However, the court found that both the county’s policy and federal regulations pertaining to FMLA leave allowed Perry four business days to report any changes, and that Aug. 4 fell within that timeframe.

Though the court found Perry eligible for reinstatement, Perry accepted two years of back pay in lieu of rehiring since the county had hired a new economic development director, Tom Elder, in May 2015. That back pay was included in the $747,320.66 she was awarded.

“We are very pleased with the judge’s decision,” Shoemaker said.

What was not included in the settlement, however, were the legal fees and costs Shoemaker’s firm incurred throughout the lawsuit process. This past Thursday the firm filed a petition that, if approved by the court, would require Isle of Wight County to pay the firm an additional $138,000 in attorneys’ fees. Additional interest may also be applied, but this figure has not yet been calculated.

Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson said he could not comment on the ruling and that the county has not yet decided on whether to appeal.

Perry works at the Wharf Hill Brewing Company in downtown Smithfield.