A plaintiff asserting a discrimination claim under Title VII must make a preliminary showing that her claims have merit. She can do so in a variety of ways, one of which is by navigating the familiar burden-shifting framework established by the Supreme Court in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973).

Under that framework, the plaintiff bears the initial burden of establishing a prima facie case of discrimination by proving, among other things, that she was treated differently from another “similarly situated” individual. The Eleventh Circuit has long grappled with the question of just how “similarly situated” a plaintiff and her comparators must be – waffling between a standard of  “nearly identical” and “same or similar.”

This confusion came to an end last week in Lewis v. City of Union City, Ga., No. 15-11362 (11th Cir. Mar. 21, 2019), when the Eleventh Circuit sitting en banc held that a plaintiff must demonstrate she and the comparators are “similarly situated in all material respects.” Although the nomenclature is new, the court’s analysis of this standard is a win for employers. As the dissenting judges proclaimed,

[t]oday, the Majority Opinion drops an anvil on the employer’s side of the balance.”

The Facts


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7K0A0129This blog is a sequel to our previous post summarizing the rules and regulations governing an employee’s use of intermittent FMLA leave, which you can find here.

Managing employees’ requests for intermittent FMLA leave can be complicated and frustrating. Intermittent leave is difficult to track. It is often abused (or is it merely coincidental that leave is most often requested for a Friday, Monday, or the day before a holiday?!). Intermittent leave causes workplace disruption—especially when it is unforeseeable. Employee morale is often affected when co-workers are forced to pick up the slack for an absent co-worker. Although employees on intermittent leave may be temporarily reassigned to a different position, they must still be restored to their original position at the end of the approved leave period. No wonder that FMLA leave is a chronic HR headache!

Here are a few tips for treating this chronic headache:
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In an Administrative Interpretation issued yesterday, the Department of Labor clarified the definition of “son and daughter” as it applies to an employee standing “in loco parentis” to a child under the Family and Medical Act for purposes of non-military leave.  The Interpretation was intended to ensure an employee who assumes the role of caring for a child receives parental rights to family leave regardless of the legal or biological relationship.  With the Interpretation, the DOL made clear the FMLA, which allows employees to take leave for the birth or adoption of a child, extends to the various parenting relationships that exist in today’s world.

The definition of “son or daughter” includes a “biological, adopted, or foster child, a stepchild, a legal ward, or a child of a person standing in loco parentis.”  In loco parentis includes those with day-to-day responsibilities to care for and financially support a child.  Employees who have no legal or biological relationship with a child may nonetheless stand in loco parentis, and thus be entitled to FMLA leave.

The Interpretation clarifies that the regulations do not require an employee who intends to assume the responsibilities of a parent to establish that he or she provides both day-to-day care and financial support.  The Interpretation lists several examples, including an employee who provides day-to-day care but does not financially support his or her unmarried partner’s child with whom there is no legal or biological relationship.  It also lists, as an example, an employee who will share equally in the raising of an adopted child with a same-sex partner, but who does not have a legal relationship with the child.


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