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Ballard v. Chicago Park Dist.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

January 28, 2014

Beverly BALLARD, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
CHICAGO PARK DISTRICT, Defendant-Appellant.

Argued Jan. 15, 2014.

Page 839

Paul W. Ryan, Attorney, Chicago, IL, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

Nelson A. Brown, Jr., Attorney, Law Department, Chicago, IL, for Defendant-Appellant.

Before FLAUM, EASTERBROOK, and ROVNER, Circuit Judges.

FLAUM, Circuit Judge.

The Family and Medical Leave Act gives eligible employees a right to twelve workweeks of leave " [i]n order to care for the spouse, or a son, daughter, or parent, of the employee, if such spouse, son, daughter, or parent has a serious health condition." 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1)(C). This case is about what qualifies as " caring for" a family member under the Act. In particular, it is about whether the FMLA applies when an employee requests leave so that she can provide physical and psychological care to a terminally ill parent while that parent is traveling away from home. For the reasons set forth below, we conclude that such an employee is seeking leave " to care for" a family member within the meaning of the FMLA.

I. Background

Beverly Ballard is a former Chicago Park District employee. In April 2006, Beverly's mother, Sarah, was diagnosed with end-stage congestive heart failure and began receiving hospice support through Horizon Hospice & Palliative Care. Beverly lived with Sarah and acted as her primary caregiver; among other things, she cooked her mother's meals, administered insulin and other medication, drained fluids from her heart, bathed and dressed her, and prepared her for bed. In 2007, Sarah and a Horizon Hospice social worker met to discuss Sarah's end-of-life goals. Sarah said that she had always wanted to take a family trip to Las Vegas. The social worker was able to secure funding from the Fairygodmother Foundation, a nonprofit that facilitated these sorts of opportunities for terminally ill adults. The six-day trip was scheduled for January 2008.

Ballard requested unpaid leave from the Chicago Park District so that she could accompany her mother to Las Vegas. (The parties dispute many particulars of Ballard's request, including whether Ballard gave the Park District sufficient notice,

Page 840

but these issues are not germane to this appeal and we will ignore them.) The Park District ultimately denied the request, although Ballard maintains that she was not informed of the denial prior to her trip.

Ballard and her mother traveled to Las Vegas as planned, where they spent time together and participated in typical tourist activities. Beverly continued to serve as her mother's caretaker during the trip. In addition to performing her usual responsibilities, Beverly drove her mother to a hospital when a fire unexpectedly prevented them from reaching their hotel room, where Sarah's medicine was stored.

Several months later, the Chicago Park District terminated Ballard for unauthorized absences accumulated during her trip. Ballard filed suit under the FMLA. The Park District moved for summary judgment, arguing in part that Ballard did not " care for" her mother in Las Vegas because she was already providing Sarah with care at home and because the trip was not related to a continuing course of medical treatment. The district court denied the motion, explaining that " [s]o long as the employee provides ‘ care’ to the family member, where the care takes place has no ...


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