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Court Not “Up In the Air”: Travel for Work Does Not Violate “Familial Association” Right

Posted in Discrimination & Harassment, Litigation

George Clooney famously made business travel look (somewhat) cool in the movie, Up in the Air.

Clooney’s character was single (really, would you expect otherwise?) and business travel was a bit glamorous (though a bit tedious as well).

Perhaps not surprisingly, absent from the movie was a discussion of whether business travel could be the subject of a federal lawsuit.

What Would Clooney Think?

A federal court case on Friday, however, had to tackle the issue in Burgos v. City of New Britain (download here).  In Burgos, a police sergeant was ordered to attend training in Alabama.  The sergeant indicated that he had concerns about child care and having to travel out of state for training.

(He was also asked to sign liability releases which he also claimed were discrminatory — but the court easily dismissed those claims).

Nevertheless, the sergeant went and the day after arriving, he informed his employer that he had a family medical emergency (no word on what that emergency was).

Arrangements were made to fly him back to New Britain later that day. He was paid 5 hours of overtime for the 24 hour period he spent in Alabama.

The sergeant filed a federal lawsuit though still.  Among the claims: He alleged (under Section 1983) that because the Supreme Court had recognized a right of association to engage in an intimate relationship with others, he had a claim that the mandatory business travel violated his rights.

The District Court disagreed. It noted that while there is some right recognized by the Supreme Court it wasn’t clear whether this right to familial association existed under the First Amendment or the Fourteenth Amendment.  But regardless of which test might apply or the parameters of the right itself, the sergeant’s rights weren’t violated here.

The Court said that the sergeant failed to show that his family relationship ended because of the travel (or was impacted in any significant way, for that matter).  The court also said that he failed to show that there was an undue intrusion into his marriage simple because he was forced to arrange for child care for a period of up to a week because of his wife’s work schedule.

The court added:

Imposing on an employee a requirement that forces the employee to make arrangements for child care for a period of one week or less to accommodate his spouse’s work schedule does not constitute an undue intrusion into the employee’s familial relationship.

The takeaway from this case? The issue of whether business travel violates the federal rights of a public employee is probably not “Up in the Air” anymore.