On January 28, 2014, the Unites States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit issued a decision in the case of Ballard v. Chicago Park District, affirming the lower court’s decision to deny the employer’s motion for summary judgment. In Ballard, the plaintiff, who was her terminally ill mother’s primary caretaker, requested FMLA leave to accompany her mother on a trip to Las Vegas. Defendant denied plaintiff’s request, arguing that plaintiff did not “care for” her mother during the trip to Las Vegas because plaintiff was already caring for her mother at home, and the trip was not related to any continuing medical treatment. Plaintiff was subsequently terminated for absences related to the Las Vegas trip. Thus, the question at issue in the case was what qualifies as “caring for” a family member under the FMLA.
Both the Seventh Circuit and district court rejected defendant’s argument, finding instead that the plaintiff’s request for leave in order to accompany her mother to Las Vegas was covered by the FMLA. According to the Seventh Circuit, the trip was covered by the FMLA because the plaintiff continued to assist her mother with basic medical, hygienic, and nutritional needs, and provide psychological comfort while in Las Vegas. In reaching its conclusion, the Court refused to read in a restriction based upon a particular place or location to the Act’s “care for” language. Similarly, the Court was unwilling to require participation in ongoing treatment for away-from-home care, when such a requirement is not necessary for at-home care, and is not supported by the text of the Act. Finally, the Court recognized that an employer concerned about the risk that employees will abuse FMLA leave provisions in order to schedule a “recreational trip” may require that requests be certified by the family member’s health care provider.