Martin v. Brevard County Public Schools is an interesting new case from the 11th Circuit on the FMLA. It tells the story of how one Florida grandpa may prevail against his former employer for violation of his rights under the FMLA.
The facts are clearly set out in the opinion. In summary, Martin helped his daughter, who was in the military, care for her young child and provided a home and financial support. The daughter received notice that she was going to be deployed overseas. In the meantime, Martin received an unsatisfactory performance evaluation from his employer and was told that he had to successfully complete a performance improvement plan before his employment contract would be renewed.
When Martin learned of his daughter's scheduled deployment he realized that he would have to care for his granddaughter and applied for FMLA leave on the basis of in loco parentis (and no, that's not Latin for "crazy parents"). The FMLA expressly grants leave rights to employees who stand in loco parentis — in the place of the parents. The leave was granted.
Now, as things turned out, the daughter's overseas deployment never happened. Nonetheless, Martin continued to care for his grandchild during the week while his daughter was in school, and on weekends when she was away for military training.
As a result, his employment contract expired without successful completion of the performance improvement plan. The school district did not renew his contract.
Martin sued under the FMLA. Brevard County sought and obtained a summary judgment in the trial court on the basis that Martin lacked in loco parentis status and therefore was not protected by the FMLA. The 11th Circuit reversed, finding a fact issue in the question whether Martin did or did not have ILP status.
It's an interesting decision and reinforces the notion that there are all manner of intricacies in the FMLA (and the employment laws in general) that can trip up both employers and employees.