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Ballard v. Chicago Park Dist.

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

September 29, 2012

Beverly BALLARD, Plaintiff,

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Eugene K. Hollander, Gina Marie Smith, The Law Offices of Eugene K. Hollander, Chicago, IL, Paul W. Ryan, Law Offices of Eugene K. Hollander, Chicago, IL, for Plaintiff.

Nelson A. Brown, Jr., Brian Joseph Flores, Chicago, IL, for Defendant.


EDMOND E. CHANG, District Judge.

Plaintiff Beverly Ballard filed this suit under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., alleging that her former employer, Chicago Park District, denied Ballard her rights under the FMLA. [1] Defendant Park District moves for summary judgment. R. 36. For the reasons discussed below, the Park District's motion for summary judgment is denied.

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In evaluating the summary judgment motion, the Court views the facts in the light most favorable to the non-movant, Ballard. Defendant Chicago Park District is a local public entity that offers recreational facilities and activities, including swimming facilities with lifeguards provided through the Department of Beaches and Pools. R. 38, Def.'s Stmt. of Facts (DSOF) ¶ 1. Plaintiff Beverly Ballard began working for the Park District in 1983 as a lifeguard and assumed other positions over the years, including that of Hourly Natatorium Instructor, a position held by Ballard at all times relevant to this case. Id. ¶ 4. In this position, Ballard accumulated leave time for personal days and sick time, but not vacation days. Id.

In early 2006, Ballard's mother, Sarah Ballard, was diagnosed with end-stage congestive heart failure, and was not expected to live. R. 45, Pl.'s Stmt. of Facts (PSOF) ¶ 1. Sarah Ballard lived with Ballard in Ballard's home. Id. As a result of her diagnosis, Sarah Ballard began receiving hospice services from Horizon Hospice & Palliative Care at Ballard's home. Id. Initially, a home-care nurse would come to Ballard's house five days a week and was on call if Ballard needed help. Id. As time went on, however, the hospice staff made fewer home visits as Ballard became more proficient in reading her mother's blood sugar level, monitoring her heart, and recognizing the signs of a massive heart attack or stroke. Id.

Although Ballard's teenaged daughter was also trained to care for Sarah Ballard, R. 38-1, Def.'s Exh. 1 (Ballard Dep.) at 24:22-26:15, Ballard was her mother's primary care giver. PSOF ¶ 2. Her responsibilities included preparing healthy meals; administering her mother's insulin shots and medicine; operating a pump to remove fluids from her mother's heart; bathing her mother; pushing her in a wheelchair; administering oxygen when her mother needed it; providing her mother with transportation; and making sure her mother was comfortable by saying soothing things to her, rubbing her back and head, and propping her up in bed. Id. ¶ 3.

On December 19, 2007, Ballard learned that she and her mother had been granted a trip to Las Vegas by the Fairygodmother Foundation, a charitable organization which grants " wishes" to persons with terminal illnesses. R. 38-3, Def.'s Exh. 3 at Exh. 7-B. The trip was scheduled to take place from January 21, 2008 through January 26, 2008, id. at Exh. 12, and Ballard, as her mother's primary care giver, was to accompany her mother on the trip. Id. at Exh. 9.

Ballard alleges that on December 19, 2007, after learning of the Fairygodmother grant, she approached Park District supervisor Eric Fischer during a break at an Hourly Instructors' Meeting to request leave for the trip to Las Vegas. PSOF ¶¶ 17-18. Fischer was the Assistant Manager of Beaches and Pools, and Ballard's direct supervisor at the time. Id. ¶ 4. He had authority to approve time sheets and grant personal days to hourly Natotorium Instructors, but he did not have authority to approve FMLA leave requests. DSOF ¶ 2. Ballard claims that she handed Fischer the Fairygodmother Foundation letter notifying her of the grant, and wrote the dates of the Las Vegas trip on the back of the letter because Fischer wanted to know what dates she was requesting in connection with the trip. PSOF ¶ 18. Ballard alleges that she discussed FMLA leave with Fischer, but that he told her it was too soon (that is, too far in advance of the requested leave), he had a lot to handle, and that he would get back to her. Id. ¶ 20. Both Fischer and the Park District

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deny that this conversation ever happened, and claim that Fischer did not learn of Ballard's trip until Fischer received Ballard's faxed leave request in January 2008. R. 49, Def.'s Resp. to PSOF ¶¶ 17-20. (At the summary-judgment stage, the Court must credit Ballard's version.)

Ballard claims that because she did not hear back from Fischer, she tried to contact him again over the phone on January 14, 2008, but was told by his secretary Erica that he was not available to respond. PSOF ¶ 25. The following day, Ballard spoke with Erica again, who told her to fax in a leave request form, which Ballard did. Id. ¶ 26. The Park District admits that it received a faxed leave request from Ballard on January 15, 2008, and that the form indicated that the request was for FMLA leave. R. 49, Def.'s Resp. to PSOF ¶ 26. But the Park District claims that the quality of the fax was so poor that Fischer initially thought it was a request for personal days and thus denied the request, citing " [n]ot enough benefit time. Location not covered." DSOF ¶ 25.

After receiving Fischer's denial, Ballard tried multiple times to reach him by phone on January 16, 17, and 18 to no avail, though his secretary Erica assured her that she was relaying her messages to Fischer. PSOF ¶ 28. The Park District denies that Ballard made any attempts to contact Fischer in the days leading up to her trip. R. 49, Def.'s Resp. to PSOF ¶ 28. Although Ballard had not received formal approval of her request for leave to travel with her mother, she believed that her FMLA leave would be approved based on her conversations with Erica, who had told her that if she got her paperwork in order, she would be fine. PSOF ¶ 31. Thus, Ballard left for Las Vegas with her mother on January 21, 2008 in spite of the fact that her January 15 request for leave had been denied. DSOF ¶ 34.

In addition to administering her mother's medication and looking after her mother during the trip, PSOF ¶ 33; Ballard Dep. at 208:23-209:4, Ballard spent time with her mother playing slots, shopping on the Strip, people-watching, and dining at restaurants. DSOF ¶¶ 42-45. Ballard admits that there were no plans for Sarah Ballard to seek professional medical care, therapy, or treatment for her heart condition while in Las Vegas, nor did Horizon Hospice provide any services for Sarah Ballard during the trip. Id. ¶¶ 48, 49.

Ballard returned to work on January 28, 2008, which was a day later than her scheduled date of return. PSOF ¶ 34. Her delay was caused by a fire that had broken out in her Las Vegas hotel, which prevented her from making her original flight home. Id. On March 21, 2008, Ballard was fired for her allegedly unauthorized absences between January ...

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