In Tayag v. Lahey Clinic Hospital, Inc., the District Court held that a sevenweek trip abroad to help an ill spouse participate in a faith healing event was not protected under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The Court found that “[t]he FMLA does not permit employees to take time off to take a vacation with a seriously ill spouse, even if caring for the spouse is an ‘incidental consequence’ of taking him on vacation.”
Lucy Marie Tayag, a woman of Filipino descent, commenced employment at Lahey Clinic Hospital in 2002. During her employment, she routinely took leave of one or two days at a time pursuant to the company’s FMLA policy to care for her husband, who suffered from several chronic health problems. In June 2006, Tayag requested seven weeks of vacation, and when that request was denied, she asked for the same amount of FMLA leave. Tayag provided a number of reasons why she needed the leave: (1) to aid her husband’s recovery from eye and hip surgery; (2) to take care of her husband during his recovery from a recent angioplasty procedure; and (3) to assist her husband in managing his chronic liver and kidney problems. Tayag failed to provide an adequate medical certification to support any of these reasons notwithstanding the company’s requests for further documentation.
Despite the fact that her leave had not been approved, Tayag left for the Philippines and stayed there for seven weeks. While there, Tayag and her husband, both practicing Catholics, spent three and a half weeks attending a “Pilgrimage of Healing Ministry” at St. Bartholomew Parish because its priest was known for his “miraculous healing” abilities. Of the remaining time, nineteen days were spent with family and friends. At no point during their trip did Mr. Tayag receive medical treatment or visit a health care professional.
While the Tayags were in the Philippines, Mr. Tayag’s cardiologist submitted a medical certification indicating that Mrs. Tayag did not need to take FMLA leave to care for her husband. After several unsuccessful attempts to contact Tayag to obtain appropriate FMLA documentation, Lahey terminated her employment. After her termination, Tayag brought claims against Lahey for violation of the FMLA, as well as discrimination claims under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Massachusetts General Laws ch. 151B.
The Court held that even if “caring for a seriously ill spouse on a trip for non-medical religious purposes is a protected activity under the FMLA”—a prospect that the Court noted is “far from clear”—Tayag’s claim failed because almost half of her trip was spent visiting friends and family. The Court also granted Lahey’s motion for summary judgment as to each of her remaining disability, race, religion, and national origin discrimination claims because they were either dependent on the outcome of her FMLA claim or because she had failed to exhaust her administrative remedies by filing a charge of discrimination at an appropriate agency.
This case reaffirms that FMLA leave must be used for covered purposes, and may not be invoked as a substitute for vacation time.