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Second Circuit Reverses FMLA Summary Judgment on Loco Parentis Issue

Second Circuit Reverses FMLA Summary Judgment on Loco Parentis Issue

In Coutard v. Municipal Credit Union, 2017 WL 526060 (2nd Cir. Feb. 9, 2017), Coutard appealed the trial court’s dismissal of his complaint that alleged his former employer interfered with and denied his rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to take leave in order to take care of his seriously ill grandfather who, in loco parentis, had raised him as a child. The trial court granted the employer’s motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint on the ground that, although the FMLA provides that an eligible employee such as Coutard may be entitled to leave to care for a person with whom he had an in loco parentis relationship as a child, Coutard informed the employer that he needed to take care of his grandfather without mentioning the in loco parentis relationship.

On appeal, Coutard contended principally that the trial court erred in ruling that his failure to mention the nature of the relationship was dispositive, given the facts, acknowledged by the employer, that it did not inform its employees that an in loco parentis relationship could entitle them to FMLA leave, did not inquire whether Coutard had such a relationship with his grandfather, and instead, when Coutard requested such leave, responded categorically that he was not entitled to FMLA leave to care for a grandparent.

The Second Circuit vacated and remanded. The court held that because Coutard met the eligibility requirements for FMLA leave and requested that leave expressly to care for his seriously ill grandfather, defendant as an employer covered by the FMLA had an obligation to specify any additional information that it needed in order to determine whether Coutard was entitled to such leave. Looking to the statute and regulations, the court noted that the employee’s responsibilities are to provide sufficient information that the requested leave “may” qualify for FMLA protection; and the employer “must” specify whether, and what additional information is required for a determination of whether the employee is entitled to such leave, which the employer here failed to do. The court thus concluded that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to the employer.

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