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By Chelsea Gomez Caswell

On Thursday, March 26, 2015 a U.S. District Judge for the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas granted a preliminary injunction, staying the U.S. Department of Labor’s (“DOL”) final rule that would expand certain leave protections for same-sex couples under the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2611 (“FMLA).  The State of Texas filed a complaint with the Court on March 18, 2015, requesting declaratory and injunctive relief to enjoin and stay the application of the DOL’s final rule.  The states of Louisiana, Arkansas, and Nebraska joined as Plaintiffs in the lawsuit on March 25, 2015.

The DOL recently promulgated a final rule defining “spouse” under the FMLA.  The final rule seeks to change the definition of spouse to look to the law of the jurisdiction in which the marriage was entered into as opposed to the law of the State in which the employee resides.  Under this final rule, although states would not be required to recognize marriages between same-sex couples, employers would be required to extend FMLA benefits to same-sex couples that were married in a state that does recognize the validity of same-sex marriages.  These benefits include job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons.  The final rule is codified as 29 C.F.R. Part 825, which was intended to become effective March 27, 2015.

However, Louisiana employers and employees alike must take note that the fate of this final rule is now unclear.  The U.S. District Court in Texas held that the Plaintiffs presented at least one claim on which they are likely to succeed and granted the preliminary injunction requested, thereby temporarily preventing the DOL from mandating enforcement of its final rule against the states.  The District Court stayed the application of the final rule pending a full determination of the matter on the merits to determine if this rule impinges on the rights of states that ban gay marriage.  Therefore, until a final judgment is entered and likely appeals run their course, the definition of “spouse” is in limbo under the FMLA.