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Legal Memorandum: Summary Judgment in a FMLA Case

Issue: Under federal law, is the decision as to whether or not an illness qualifies as a ‘serious health condition’ for purposes of the FMLA one which is inappropriate to determine on summary judgment?

Area of Law: Employee Law, Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Summary judgment; Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA); Serious health condition
Jurisdiction: Federal
Cited Cases: 94 F. Supp. 2d 186; 40 F. Supp. 2d 1055
Cited Statutes: 29 C.F.R. § 825.114(a)(2)(iii); 29 C.F.R. § 825.114(a)
Date: 03/01/2004

The question whether an employee or an employee’s family member suffered a serious health condition within the meaning of the FMLA is a question of fact that precludes summary judgment.  Caldwell v. Holland of Tex., Inc., 208 F.3d 671, 674 (8th Cir. 2000) (reversing summary judgment granted in the defendant’s favor because the plaintiff submitted sufficient evidence to raise a question of fact for the jury).  One district court observed that “[t]he court and the employer should defer to the health care provider’s determination of whether a condition qualifies” as a serious health condition under the Act.  Washington v. Fort James Operating Co., 110 F. Supp. 2d, 1325, 1333 (D. Or. 2000) (pointing out further that if the employer disagrees with a doctor, it may request a second or even third opinion).  The employee’s medical certification is prima facie proof that his or her absence was the result of a serious health condition.  Id. at 1333-34.  See also Latella v. Nat’l Passenger R.R. Corp. (“Amtrak”), 94 F. Supp. 2d 186, 188-89 (D. Conn. 1999) (the plaintiff’s providing supervisor with a doctor’s note that his son was hospitalized February 4-5 was sufficient to support an inference that his absence on February 8-11 was to stay home to care for the child, precluding motion to dismiss).

One definition of “serious health condition” in the regulation is “[a]ny period of incapacity or treatment for such incapacity due to a chronic serious health condition.”   29 C.F.R. § […]

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