A Suffolk Superior Court jury Thursday awarded a former Massachusetts Water Resources Authority worker $1.2 million, finding the authority wrongly fired him for taking medical leave, court documents show.
Richard DaPrato, a data resources manager from Billerica who worked for the MWRA from 2004 to 2015, alleged he was retaliated against for taking approved medical leave from work and for disclosing his anticipated need for future medical leave, according to the legal complaint, which was filed in December 2015.
The MWRA, according to the complaint, failed to accommodate DaPrato’s handicap, interfered with his medical leave rights, retaliated against him in violation of the law, and fired him for using protected medical leave.
The authority declined to comment on the case Thursday night.
In 2014 and 2015, DaPrato suffered from nerve tumors in his feet, which caused him severe pain, according to court documents.
After therapy failed to relieve DaPrato’s symptoms, surgery was recommended to remove the inflamed and enlarged nerve tissues. The nerve tumors and the resulting medical procedures would limit DaPrato’s ability to work, court documents show. In late 2014 and early 2015, DaPrato formally requested an accommodation of medical leave from work for anticipated surgeries and recovery periods. DaPrato, according to court documents, told the authority he would be in Mexico for a portion of his recovery as part of a pre-planned annual family vacation trip, a sojourn that was cleared by his doctor.
However, after returning to work, a MWRA official told him he intentionally violated the rules of a “salary continuation” program, which qualified him for 10 weeks of full pay while on medical leave, by traveling to Mexico during his recovery. DaPrato rejected that accusation, saying he had previously disclosed his Mexico plans to the MWRA.
The MWRA used the alleged medical leave rule violation as a pretext to fire him, according to court documents. DaPrato’s attorneys argued that the basis for his termination was illogical and false. The jury apparently agreed, awarding DaPrato nearly $20,000 for lost back pay, $300,000 for pension losses, $200,000 for “emotional distress damages,” and more than $715,000 to punish the MWRA for its behavior.
“The case stands for the proposition that someone who takes medical leave for surgery can’t be punished for that,” said DaPrato’s attorney, David E. Belfort. “That’s the bigger picture here.”
The MWRA, said Belfort, “behaved like it’s above the law, and it’s not.”