Family Law Keyed to Weisberg

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Caldwell v. Holland of Texas, Inc

Citation. Caldwell v. Holland of Tex., 208 F.3d 671, 2000 U.S. App. LEXIS 5630, 140 Lab. Cas. (CCH) P34,035, 78 Empl. Prac. Dec. (CCH) P40,010, 5 Wage & Hour Cas. (BNA) 1778 (8th Cir. Ark. Mar. 30, 2000)

Brief Fact Summary. A single mother was fired from her employment after taking a day off of work to care for her sick child. She brought suit claiming the employer violated the FMLA by terminating her.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. A FMLA violation requires a two pronged inquiry to find a serious health condition: a period of incapacity for more than three days; and subsequent continued, supervised treatment relating to the same condition.

Facts. Juanita Caldwell was a single mother working for Holland, owner of several Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants. During her three year employment she developed an excellent work record. In June of 1997 Caldwell was forced to take her son to the emergency clinic. She notified her employer prior to her shift, and was given permission to miss the shift. The doctor diagnosed her son as having an acute ear infection, prescribed a ten-day course of antibiotics and informed Caldwell that her son would probably require surgery to avoid permanent hearing loss. Later that night, Caldwell worked an evening shift at another store at the request of her employer while Caldwell’s mother cared for her son. Upon returning to her regular schedule she was abruptly fired. Caldwell averred that her son suffered incapacity for more than three consecutive days and did not participate in normal activities. During a follow up visit, a second ten-day course of antibiotics was prescribed. Ten day
s later he had surgery to remove his adenoids and tonsils. Another week of antibiotics occurred after surgery. Caldwell sued, arguing that her termination violated the FMLA. Summary judgment was granted for Holland.

Issue. Did the district court err in granting summary judgment for Holland based on its finding that Caldwell’s termination did not violate the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)?

Held. There was at least a question of fact as to whether Caldwell’s son’s illness constituted a serious condition causing incapacity for more than three days and required subsequent treatment as required under FMLA regulations.
The FMLA allows eligible employees to take up to twelve weeks of leave for serious health conditions that afflict their immediate family members. A serious health condition requires inpatient care or continuing treatment. Continuing treatment is a two prong test consisting of incapacity for more than three consecutive calendar days followed by subsequent treatment or further incapacity.

Generally incapacity is described as an inability to work or attend school, but this is inapplicable to Caldwell’s three year old son. Factors that a fact finder may consider in such cases include whether the child participated in his daily routines, was particularly difficult to care for, or if a daycare facility would have allowed the child to attend sessions.

Caldwell averred that the ear infection required treatment for more than three consecutive days, and medical records show that it was a persistent medical condition. Therefore, the period of incapacity may be measured over the entire time he was suffering from and being treated for the illness. Even if the child was not incapacitated prior to surgery, a period of incapacity occurred after surgery. There is also a genuine issue of fact regarding subsequent treatment, considering the child’s later treatment and surgery.

Discussion. The Court did not find that Caldwell fell under the protection of the FMLA based on her son’s illness, but rather that summary judgment against Caldwell was inappropriate. The case presents a description of how to determine when the serious health condition requirement of the FMLA is satisfied.