Family and Medical Leave Act

Hollander Law Offices Wins Seventh Circuit Decision on FMLA

Beverly Ballard was formerly employed by the Chicago Park District.  In April,, 2006, her mother was diagnosed with end-stage congestive heart failure and began receiving hospice support.  Beverly lived with her mother, Sarah, and cooked for her, administered insulin and other medication, bathed and dressed her, and got her ready for bed.  In 2007, Sarah said that she always wanted to take a family trip to Las Vegas.  A social worker was able to secure funding through the Fairy Godmother Foundation, a nonprofit organization which facilitated opportunities like these for terminally-ill adults.  Beverly requested unpaid leave through her employer.  The Park District ultimately denied the request.  Beverly took her mother on the trip - they engaged in typical tourist activities, but Beverly also provided care to her mother during the trip.  Several months later, the Park District terminated Beverly's employment for exercising unauthorized absences accumulated during her trip.  Beverly filed suit, claiming that the termination violated the Family and Medical Leave Act, ("FMLA").  Her employer sought dismissal of the case, and a federal district court denied the motion, reasoning that Beverly provided care to her mother during the trip.  In a case of first impression in our Seventh Circuit, the federal appellate court held that it did not matter where Beverly cared for her mother, and thus was protected under the FMLA.  The Court upheld the lower court's decision.  Paul Ryan, who handled the matter at the trial court and appellate levels, said, "This is a great victory for employees.  They should not be afraid to care for a loved one, if it involves travel away from home."  We will keep you posted as the case progresses.

Federal Court Paves the Way For Employee to Puruse FMLA Claim Against Non-Employer

In perhaps a case of first impression, a federal district court judge has refused to throw out a lawsuit against a non-employer involving an FMLA claim.  Luis Arango worked for Sysco, a marketer and distributor of food service products.  Work & Well administered time off requests for the company's employees.  Arango claimed that Work & Well falsely told him that he was ineligible for part of the leave, prompting Sysco to fire him.  The court held that Arango was not shielded from the consultant's privilege (which would ordinarily shield it if it gave good faith advice) since there was enough evidence that the defendant did not give honest advice to Sysco.  Work & Well promised to "ensure consistent, complete FMLA compliance" in its contract with Sysco.  The evidence also showed that Work & Well also promised to reduce the number of FMLA leaves and the days off associated with those leaves.  The court did not rule on the merits of the claim, but with the ruling, the case can now proceed to trial.

Seventh Circuit Revives Discrimination Lawsuit Against Law Firm

Two weeks ago, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals revived a discrimination lawsuit against the law firm of SmithAmundsen, which was dismissed by a federal district court judge.  Laura Makowski was the former Marketing Director of the law firm.  According to her lawsuit, Makowski claimed that while she was on maternity leave in 2008, she was told by the managing partner that her job was being eliminated during a restructuring.  The Human Resources Director allegedly later told her that the law firm fired her because she took maternity leave.  The district court held that the Human Rescources Director's alleged statement was inadmissible hearsay and excluded it when ruling on the employer's motion for summary judgment.  He then dismissed the case.  The appeals court held that the lower court erred in finding that the statement was hearsay, since it was made by an agent of the employer.  Makowski filed suit under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and The Family and Medical Leave Act.