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$840,000 to Wrongfully Terminated Pennsylvania Jail Official

A federal jury has awarded $842,119 to a former major at the Allegheny County Jail in Pennsylvania. The jury found that Walter Mikulan was fired in 2013 in an effort to get rid of older supervisors and because he was allegedly abusing the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

Mikulan started as a guard at ACJ in 1984; he rose through the ranks and was promoted in 2002 to the rank of major, the third-highest position at the facility. His performance ratings were “consistently positive” and his only disciplinary action resulted in a verbal warning.

Then, in October 2012, ACJ warden Orlando Harper said he believed jail employees were abusing the FMLA and that he intended to crack down on the practice. Harper stated he would terminate FMLA abusers.

Mikulan was diagnosed in January 2013 with severe depression and anxiety, and his physician prescribed intermittent FMLA leave when necessary to deal with those conditions. On his doctor’s advice, Mikulan took two or three weeks of FMLA leave in early 2013. Immediately upon his return to work, he was subjected to a disciplinary hearing for a paperwork violation; another major at ACJ committed the same offense but was not disciplined.

Mikulan took more FMLA leave intermittently between February 2013 and August 2013, and Warden Harper made negative comments about those absences. In July 2013, Mikulan received a verbal reprimand for failure to submit County Property Accountability acknowledgement forms; the only unsigned forms were for employees who were on vacation, sick or otherwise not available. Finally, on August 13, 2013, Mikulan, who was 58 at the time, was terminated without reason.

Prior to filing his federal suit, Mikulan received a right to sue notification letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. His civil complaint alleged violations of the right to be free from retaliation for exercising his rights under the FMLA and the right to be free of age discrimination under federal and state law.

The case proceeded to a jury trial, and the jury rendered a verdict on June 8, 2017. It found that Mikulan was terminated due to his age and because of his protected use of leave under the FMLA. He received $239,169 in back pay and five years of front pay, amounting to $277,950. The jury also awarded $325,000 in compensatory damages.

Mikulan was represented by Pittsburgh attorney Margaret Schuetz Coleman. See: Mikulan v. Allegheny County, U.S.D.C. (W.D. Penn.), Case No. 2:15-cv-01007-CRE. 

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Related legal case

Mikulan v. Allegheny County