The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington has approved a consent judgment requiring Toppenish-based Washington Beef to pay a former employee $50,000 in back wages following an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division. The division found that the meat processor unlawfully terminated the employee for taking leave, as permitted by the Family and Medical Leave Act, for two serious medical conditions.

“Employees already in distress due to medical situations do not have to choose between their health care and their jobs,” said Donna Hart, director of the Wage and Hour Division’s Seattle District Office, which investigated the case. “This case illustrates that the Labor Department will use all enforcement tools available, including litigation, to protect workers when they lawfully request leave for medical treatment.”

The investigation determined that the company failed to designate the employee’s leave as FMLA-qualifying and did not reinstate the employee to the same or an equivalent position upon return to work, as required by the FMLA. The employee worked on the killing floor handling beef hearts and livers during processing and packaging.

Washington Beef is a subsidiary of Boise, Idaho-based Agri Beef Co. The employer has agreed to the entry of the consent judgment.

The FMLA entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave.