What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, usually, but not in this case. What happened in Vegas was scrutinized because the plaintiff claimed that her absences for her trip there were protected by the FMLA because she was “caring for” her mother on her mom’s end-of-life trip. A charitable organization which grants wishes to persons with terminal illnesses had granted her mother a trip to Vegas. Plaintiff’s employer had terminated her for her unauthorized absences.
In Vegas, the plaintiff administered her mother’s medication and looked after her, while also spending time with her mother playing slots, shopping on the Strip, people-watching and dining in restaurants. The Vegas trip did not include any medical care, therapy or treatment for her mom’s medical condition.
In denying summary judgment to the employer on plaintiff’s FMLA claim, the Court rejected the argument that time off to “care for” is only protected when it is connected to the family member’s need for treatment. In rejecting the employer’s argument that the absences were not protected because her mom chose to travel away from home for reasons unrelated to medical treatment, the Court said “where the care takes place has no bearing on whether the employee receives FMLA protections.” The Court concluded that because plaintiff’s mom had a serious health condition and was unable to care for her own basic medical, hygienic or nutritional needs or safety, plaintiff was caring for her mom in Vegas. Ballard v. Chicago Park District (N.D. IL September 29, 2012).
This case is also helpful because it analyzes decisions which have held that absences to care for a family member must be connected to medical treatment, especially when the family member travels away from home.