Argued May 27, 2014
Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Western Division. No. 11 C 50325 -- Frederick J. Kapala, Judge.
For Suzan Gienapp, Plaintiff - Appellant: John F. Doak, Attorney, Katz, Huntoon & Fieweger, Moline, IL.
For HARBOR CREST, an Illinois Not-for-Profit Corporation, Myra Chattic, Defendants - Appellees: Stephen E. Balogh III, Attorney, Williams & Mccarthy, Rockford, IL.
Before POSNER, EASTERBROOK, and HAMILTON, Circuit Judges.
Easterbrook, Circuit Judge.
Suzan Gienapp worked at Harbor Crest, a residential nursing care facility in Fulton, Illinois. In January 2011 she told Myra Chattic, its top manager, that she needed time off to care for her daughter, who was undergoing treatment for thyroid cancer. Chattic granted leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Employees are entitled to as much as 12 weeks' unpaid leave annually to care for children with serious health conditions. 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1). Harbor Crest acknowledges that Gienapp's daughter had a serious health condition, a term defined in § 2611(11). While on leave, Gienapp mailed in an FMLA form, leaving blank a question about the leave's expected duration.
Harbor Crest did not ask her to fill in the blank on the form, nor did it pose written questions as the 12-week period progressed. (The parties debate whether Harbor Crest asked for a return date by
phone or through Gienapp's sister; for current purposes, we must accept Gienapp's position that it did not. The absence of a written request is undisputed.) A physician's statement on the form said that the daughter's recovery was uncertain, and that if she did recover she would require assistance at least through July 2011. Chattic inferred from this that Gienapp would not return by April 1, her leave's outer limit, and in mid-February Chattic hired someone else in her stead. When Gienapp reported for work on March 29, Chattic told her that she no longer had a job. After the exhaustion of administrative remedies, this litigation followed. The district court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment, ruling that Gienapp had forfeited her rights under the FMLA by not telling Harbor Crest exactly how much leave she would take.
The statute requires notice to the employer of the need for leave. Gienapp gave notice; Chattic granted leave; Harbor Crest knew that it was governed by the FMLA. What Gienapp did not do was provide a date when she expected to return to work, though the form called for that information.
Because her daughter's status was changeable, Gienapp could not have given a firm date; the Department of Labor's regulations call her situation " unforeseeable" leave. The daughter might die soon, and then Gienapp could return to work; or she might live longer (as she did; her cancer is in remission) but need more care than other members of the family could provide. If that occurred, the family might or might not hire a live-in nurse to handle the daughter's needs. The date on which a medical professional would replace Gienapp's assistance, or care might become unnecessary, could not be known in January 2011.
That left two possibilities: Gienapp might have said something like " I will return no later than April 1, and earlier if possible" or something like " I will stay with my daughter as long as necessary, even if that means giving up my job, but will return by April 1 if things work out." As we understand Harbor Crest's position, putting either of these statements on the form would have complied with the FMLA's notice requirement and thus held Gienapp's job open. Yet neither of these statements would have given Harbor Crest materially more information than the blank box, plus the physician's statement describing the daughter's medical status. It ...