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While this topic of this blog post is not exactly what this blog typically covers, I frequently find that litigation in another areas of law either impacts or illuminates an issue dealt with by our family law clients.  One such example would be a recent decision at the Eastern District of Pennsylvania interpreting various terms of the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”).  In that case, a mother had to take off time from work in order to find a new daycare for her autistic daughter who has significant developmental disorders and physical impairments.  Her employer, Reading Hospital Medical Center, opposed the use of FMLA leave for this purpose.  FMLA leave is designed to allow an individual to take time off from work to address family medical issues without the risk of losing their job.


The Honorable Timothy J. Savage of the Eastern District looked to the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) to help identify whether or not the mother’s daughter had impairments which would cause her to fall within the “serious health condition” category of the FMLA.  In doing so, there was also the interpretation of whether the change in daycare constituted “changes in care” as it is contemplated by FMLA regulations.  As drafted, the regulations are silent as to whether moving from one non-medical facility to another constitutes a “change in care,” as it would otherwise be considered when moving someone to a facility offering medical treatment.


Judge Savage’s opinion would appear to expand the definitions of some important FMLA terms, but Reading Hospital Medical Center disagrees and does not consider the holding to be a significant expansion of FMLA regulations; they believe Judge Savage’s opinion addresses their narrow set of facts and does not have a broader application beyond this case.  Nevertheless, the holding seems to make a persuasive argument that the regulations now include changes of care for a family member with a serious medical condition, even if the change of care relates to a non-medical facility.  The designation of the medical condition of the individual will dictate whether the time off to facilitate a change in care falls within the protections of the FMLA.


 The application of this case to family law is that informs both attorneys and clients as to how much flexibility they have to make appropriate child care arrangements for a special needs child during work hours.  This could be extremely important to a client with a disabled child who has either a limited support network or a difficult (or even non-existent) custodial arrangement with the other parent. Maintaining consistent child care can be challenging under the best of circumstances, but when medical and developmental issues of a child are factored in, it makes a difficult situation that much harder.   For a single parent, child care coverage means maintaining employment and stability for the child; it would seem like Judge Savage’s opinion reasonably fits into the purpose behind the FMLA.


For more information about other employment discrimination issues, go to Fox Rothschild’s Employment Discrimination blog written by Richard Cohen and Christina Stoneburner of our New York and Roseland, NJ offices, respectively. 


The case involved is Wegelin v. Reading Hospital Medical Center.   An article on the case was written by Saranac Hale Spencer (sspencer@alm.com) and published in the December 4, 2012 issue of the Legal Intelligencer (Vol. 246, No. 108).