Employee leave covered by the CFRA to care for an adult sister before the law was extended
The California Highway Patrol (CHP) violated the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) when it fired a worker in 2014 after taking time off to care for her adult sister, a California appeals court ruled. The employee had the right to take family leave because he stood “in loco parentis” towards his sister, the court said.
In 2014, the CFRA did not cover employee leave to care for a sibling. At that time, however, an employee was entitled to take time off to care for a dependent adult, including one to whom the employee stood in loco parentis.
An employee is in loco parentis if he acts in the place of a parent or is otherwise entrusted with the rights and responsibilities of a parent. In particular, there must not be a biological or legal relationship between the employee and the dependent.
In this case, the employee’s immediate family included his mother and sister. He left Haiti for the United States in 1995. Eleven years later he began working as a CHP peace officer. Over the next eight years, performance reviews showed him to perform or exceed in all categories.
The employee looked after his 80-year-old mother who lived with him. Her sister, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, remained in Haiti. The employee set up a private health facility for her in the family home. He went there frequently to help take care of her. He maintained regular contact with his sister’s attending physician, who considered him to be her guardian.
The employee paid the property taxes on the family home. He also paid for his sister’s food, daily necessities, medical care, and health insurance. He employed and supervised a home sitter for his sister.
On November 9, 2014, the employee learned that his sister had left the family home and was wandering the streets of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. He was also told that local law enforcement forced him to file a report in person as his sister’s next of kin. Later that day, the employee told his supervisor that he might need emergency leave. He had previously taken emergency leave from his CHP duties to care for his sister, once in 2007 when she experienced a medical crisis, and again in 2010 after an earthquake.
The next day, the employee told his supervisor that his sister was missing in Haiti and requested a two-week leave. His supervisor informed the CHP captain that the employee had to “get out of the country to take care of family matters”. He left the next day, November 11.
When the employee did not show up for work on November 14, CHP called it an absence without leave.
When the employee returned to work on December 4, he presented documents regarding his leave, including:
- Medical records confirming her sister’s state of health and ongoing medical treatment.
- Police reports showing he was his sister’s next of kin and had launched a police search to help find her.
- Financial records demonstrating the employee’s long-standing financial support to her sister.
CHP refused to accept or evaluate the documents. He first assigned the employee to clerical duties and then fired him.
The employee brought an action under the CFRA. The case went to trial and the jury ruled in favor of the employee on all of the claims, including that he was eligible for leave and that the CHP violated the CFRA by denying his request for leave and terminating him. .
The CHP appealed, arguing, among other claims, that the employee was not entitled to CFRA leave because he was not in loco parentis towards his sister. The appeals court disagreed and upheld the jury’s $ 3.9 million damages award and the trial court’s judgment in favor of the employee.
Proof of In Loco Parentis status
The court found that the evidence overwhelmingly supported the jury’s decision that the employee was in loco parentis towards his sister. He supported himself on a daily basis for almost two decades. He paid for her accommodation and other essentials and wired her money at least once a month. He paid for his medical care and employed and supervised a house keeper. He communicated regularly with his doctors to understand and meet his psychological and medical needs. He frequently visited the family home in Haiti to help take care of her.
While in Haiti in the fall of 2014, the employee worked with police to locate his sister. And once she was found, he escorted her to medical visits, filled her prescriptions, and provided for her daily needs. Such evidence demonstrated an ongoing and permanent relationship between the employee and his sister, the court found.
Vincent c. Dept. of Cal. Highway Patrol, Calif. Ct. App., # B302026 (August 31, 2021).
Professional pointer: Effective January 1, 2021, the CFRA added grandparents, grandchildren and siblings to the list of family members for which an employee could take time off. If the events in this case were to occur today, the employee would not be required to meet the requirements in loco parentis. However, the analysis still applies to a request for care leave for someone who does not fall within one of the relationship categories specified in the amended law. As the court mentioned, for the in loco parentis standard to apply, there is no need for a biological or legal connection between the employee and the person in need of care.
Joanne Deschenaux, JD, is a freelance writer in Annapolis, Maryland.