BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – In May 2020, Kristie Williams got news no mother ever wants to hear. Her daughter, a Marine stationed in Hawaii, had been sexually assaulted by her superior officer. Williams wanted nothing more than to be by her daughter’s side.
Williams, who worked as a program director at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), filed paperwork with her employer to go take care of her daughter as provided for under the Family and Medical Leave Act’s military leave provisions. She headed to Hawaii to care for her daughter, Williams said, but UAB never provided her the legally-required time and space she needed to help mend the Marine’s physical and emotional wounds.
In a lawsuit filed by Williams in federal court this month, the longtime employee of UAB claims the university violated federal law by requiring her to work during her military family leave.
During Williams’ leave, the lawsuit claims, she received over 600 e-mails from UAB.
“These emails consisted of asking Williams for information and requiring her to work on projects while trying to help her daughter through a traumatic sexual assault,” the lawsuit said.
Williams’ supervisors eventually complained about the quality of her work while on FMLA leave, the lawsuit claims, and placed her on various “developmental plans” to improve her performance.
One of the plans said Williams needed to improve her “attention to detail, communication, and responding quickly and accurately to the Division’s faculty and staff,” according to the lawsuit.
Williams, who’d worked at UAB since 2002, reached out to supervisors and human resources representatives, she said, informing them that she believed she should not be required to work during her leave and that she should not have received “developmental plans” while taking care of her daughter. Williams said that when she told a UAB staffer from employee relations that her FMLA had been mishandled, the response was clear: “We don’t want to go there.”
Eventually, Williams said she completed each developmental plan completely and ahead of schedule, returning to work as normal in August 2020. Williams said that the day she returned to work, she was told that she would likely be terminated because of her work performance. In lieu of termination, Williams was “constructively discharged” from her position just two weeks later.
Williams’ lawsuit claims that UAB’s actions interfered with William’s rights under the FMLA and that the university retaliated against her when she tried to exercise those rights.
“Defendant acted with malicious intent and/or reckless disregard for Plaintiff’s federally protected rights,” the lawsuit said.
Williams has asked the court to order UAB to stop violations of the FMLA and provide her with back pay, lost wages, and “additional relief and benefits as justice requires.”
CBS 42 reached out to UAB about this story, but a representative declined to comment.
“We do not comment on pending litigation,” the representative said.