Employers must ensure they understand who is entitled to leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). In a recent decision, a federal court has ordered a plaintiff’s claims to proceed to a jury trial to determine whether the plaintiff’s former employer interfered with her rights under FMLA.

In Gibson v. New York State of Mental Health, et al., No. 6:17-cv-0608 (N.D.N.Y Nov. 25, 2019), the plaintiff requested a leave of absence to care for her 31-year-old daughter and minor grandchildren. The employer denied her leave request because her daughter was over 18 years old and the plaintiff sued the employer.

Under the FMLA, an eligible employee is entitled to leave to care for a son or daughter with a serious health condition. The definition of a “son or daughter” includes individuals who are over 18 years old and incapable of self-care because of a mental or physical disability. A willful violation has a three-year statute of limitations.

The employer’s Associate Personnel Administrator reviewed the plaintiff’s leave request and discussed the request with an attorney. Ultimately, the plaintiff’s request was denied.

The court denied the employer’s motion for summary judgment. The court focused on contemporaneous documentation prepared by the employer in denying plaintiff’s leave request in which there is no indication her daughter’s capability for self-care was considered. This included the denial letter to the plaintiff and notes from the Associate Personnel Administrator’s conversation with the attorney.

The court held that a factfinder could conclude the employer did not rely on a finding as to whether the plaintiff’s daughter was incapable of self-care in denying her leave request and allowed the case to proceed to trial.

Employers must ensure that personnel responsible for making leave determinations fully understand who is entitled to leave under the FMLA and applicable state and local laws. When denying a leave request, prepare contemporaneous documentation of all reasons for the denial as it could become key evidence in a future FMLA case.