Recently, an Ohio federal court rejected an individual’s claim of entitlement to FMLA leave to care for his sister’s children. In Brede v. Apple Comput. Inc., N.D. Ohio No. 1:19-cv-2130, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11275 (Jan. 23, 2020), the plaintiff argued that his former employer interfered with and retaliated against him for using FMLA leave. In particular, the plaintiff asserted he was entitled to FMLA leave to either: a) care for his seriously ill sister; or b) due to his role in loco parentis for his sister’s minor children.
The FMLA permits eligible employees to take a total of 12 work weeks of leave during a 12-month period for certain specified reasons. FMLA-qualifying reasons include caring for one’s own serious health condition or caring for the serious health condition of a spouse, son, daughter, or parent. The statute defines “son or daughter” as a biological, adopted, or foster child, a stepchild, legal ward, or the child of a person standing in loco parentis.
The Brieda court found two significant flaws in the plaintiff’s FMLA claims. First, caring for his sister’s children was not an FMLA-qualifying reason because, even if he stood in loco parentis, the minor children did not have the serious health condition. Rather, his sister did. Second, although the plaintiff attempted to argue that caring for the children equated to caring for his sister, that argument likewise failed. The FMLA does not provide leave to care for a sibling with a serious health condition.
The Brieda decision highlights the importance of reviewing and considering FMLA claims on an individualized basis.