Federal judge backs working Pa. mother in FMLA case

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A Pennsylvania mother was entitled to take time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act in order to make day care arrangements for her autistic child after her employer changed her schedule, a federal judge has ruled.

The opinion was issued the same day as the case was settled and closed.

A change to Rachel Wegelin's working hours meant that she had to find a new day care center for her daughter, Carolyn, for which she was entitled to take leave under the FMLA, U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Savage of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania said in Wegelin v. Reading Hospital and Medical Center.

"Making arrangements for 'changes in care' is expressly covered by the regulations," Judge Savage said after quoting a passage from the FMLA. He later concluded, "When Reading Hospital changed Wegelin's parking assignment, she had to make arrangements for a change in Carolyn's care, entitling Wegelin to FMLA leave."

Because the opinion is fact-specific, Vincent Candiello of Post & Schell in Harrisburg, who represented the hospital, said he doesn't expect that it will have much bearing on future cases.

While Ms. Wegelin's lawyer, John Bucolo of Setley Rauch & Bucolo in Wyomissing, agreed that the case presented a unique factual situation, he said that Judge Savage's opinion makes it clear that the FMLA regulations include a broad definition of a "serious health condition."

The FMLA allows a worker to take leave in order to take care of a child who has a "serious health condition," which is defined as having an "'illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition' that involves 'inpatient care in a hospital, hospice, or residential medical care facility' or 'continuing treatment by a health care provider,'" Judge Savage wrote, quoting from the regulations.

He held that Ms. Wegelin's daughter's condition could fall under the latter category.

Ms. Wegelin's daughter has a significant developmental disorder and is blind in her left eye, leaving her unable to be left alone, according to the opinion. She has constant supervision, at home, school and day care.

The upshot of that holding for the FMLA is that the child is in a perpetual state of suffering from a serious health condition, so any need -- doctor's appointments or day care arrangements -- can trigger her mother's entitlement to leave under the FMLA in order to attend to her.

Ms. Wegelin had arranged a day care schedule for her daughter so that Ms. Wegelin could drop her off before work around 8 a.m. and pick her up after work around 5:30 p.m.

However, when her employer moved her assigned parking spot to a lot much farther away, Ms. Wegelin had to find a new day care provider that would be open later than 5:30 p.m., according to the opinion. Ms. Wegelin needed to take time off to make the new arrangements, since she only had half an hour for lunch and wasn't allowed to use her cellphone near the hospital.


Saranac Hale Spencer: sspencer@alm.com or 215-557-2449. To read more articles like this, visit www.thelegalintelligencer.com.


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