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Media Alerts - Coutard v. Municipal Credit Union - Second Circuit
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February 9, 2017
  Coutard v. Municipal Credit Union - Second Circuit
Headline: Second Circuit Vacates Grant of Summary Judgment to Employer who Denied FMLA Leave To Employee to Care for Grandparent

Area of Law: Employment

Issue Presented: Whether an employee gave sufficient notice for FMLA leave when it informed its employer that it needed leave to take care of a sick grandparent but not that the grandparent was in loco parentis.

Brief Summary: The Second Circuit vacated a decision by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York which had granted summary judgment to the Municipal Credit Union (MCU), an employer, who was sued by its employee alleging MCU improperly denied him leave to care for his grandfather under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 ("FMLA"). In seeking leave, the employee had notified MCU that his grandfather was sick, but did not specify that his grandfather was in loco parentis, which would have entitled him to leave to care for him under the FMLA. The Second Circuit held that the case should not have been dismissed because an employer is obligated to inquire further whether an employee is entitled to FMLA once the employer has received sufficient information from the employee that he or she may be entitled to leave.

To read the full opinion, go to:

Extended Summary: The Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a judgment of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York regarding an interpretation and application of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. The plaintiff, Frantz Coutard, was employed by the defendant, Municipal Credit Union ("MCU"). As defined under the FMLA, MCU is an "employer" and Coutard is an "employee," to which the FMLA applies. Coutard sought leave from his job at MCU to take care of his seriously ill grandfather, who raised him as a child in loco parentis. Under the FMLA, employees are entitled to leave in situations when a grandfather who stood in loco parentis to the employee when the employee was a child under the age 18. When seeking leave, however, Coutard did not mention to MCO that his grandfather raised him in loco parentis. Upon Coutard's request, MCU denied leave stating that the FMLA did not cover leave to take care of a grandparent. Coutard stayed home to take care of his sick grandfather, missing work, and MCU terminated his employment.

The district court ruled that Coutard's failure to mention the nature of his relationship with his grandfather was grounds for dismissal of this case. Coutard appealed on the basis that his failure to tell MCU that his grandfather raised him in loco parentis was not dispositive because MCU did not inform its employees that an in loco parentis relationship could entitle them to FMLA leave, did not inquire whether Coutard had such a relationship with his grandfather, and when he requested FMLA leave, MCU responded categorically that FMLA did not entitle him to such leave to care for a grandparent. In response, MCU maintained that it is the employee's burden, at the time the request for leave is made, to provide all the facts needed to show the employee is entitled to leave.

The Department of Labor regulations, promulgated pursuant to the FMLA, 29 C.F.R. § 825.303(a) and (b) state that: "[a]n employee shall provide sufficient information for an employer to reasonably determine whether the FMLA may apply to the leave request. . . . When an employee seeks leave for the first time for a FMLA-qualifying reason, the employee need not expressly assert rights under the FMLA or even mention the FMLA. . . . The employer will be expected to obtain any additional required information through informal means."

Based on this regulation, the Second Circuit ruled that the obligation of an employee to give notice of his need for FMLA leave is not the obligation to provide the employer with all the necessary details for a definitive determination of the FMLA's applicability. Rather, the court found, in the absence of a request for additional information, an employee provides sufficient notice to its employer if the notice reasonably indicates that the FMLA may apply. The Second Circuit therefore held that the district court erred in ruling the Coutard's notice to MCU was deficient because he failed to specify that in loco parentis relationship with his grandfather at or before his request for FMLA leave and found that the burden was on MCU to request additional information to determine if Coutard was eligible for FMLA leave. Accordingly, the grant of summary judgment by the district court was vacated and the case was remanded for further proceedings.

To read the full opinion, go to:

Panel: Circuit Judges Kearse, Pooler, and Sack

Argument Date: 02/10/2016

Date of Issued Opinion: 02/09/2017

Docket Number: 15-1113

Decided: Vacated and Remanded

Case Alert Author: Leigh Wellington

Counsel: Abdul K. Hassan, Abdul Hassan Law Group for Plaintiff-Appellant; Douglas E. Motzenbecker, Gordon & Rees for Defendant-Appellee.

Author of Opinion: Judge Kearse

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor:
Elyse Diamond

    Posted By: Elyse Diamond @ 02/09/2017 08:32 PM     2nd Circuit  

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