Legal Briefing: Be Letter-Perfect on FMLA


Oct. 2, 2014

Lisa Lupyan, an instructor at Corinthian Colleges Inc. in Pennsylvania, took a leave of absence for depression. Although Lupyan filled out Family and Medical Leave Act paperwork, when she took her leave, her FMLA rights were never discussed. CCI argued that it sent Lupyan a letter to explain her leave was designed as FMLA leave and to notify her of her rights, but Lupyan denied receiving the letter. When Lupyan attempted to return to work with a full release from her doctor, CCI responded that she was fired for not returning to work within the 12 weeks allotted for FMLA leave. Lupyan then sued, alleging a violation of her FMLA rights.

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania granted summary judgment to CCI, ruling that there’s a presumption that letters sent through the U.S. Postal Service are received three days later. On appeal, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision. The circuit court held that Lupyan’s denial that she had received the FMLA letter places the issue in dispute, since “it is certainly not expecting too much to require businesses that wish to avoid a material dispute about the receipt of a letter to use some form of mailing that includes verifiable receipt.” Lupyan v. Corinthian Colls. Inc., 3d Cir. No. 13-1843, (Aug. 5, 2014).

IMPACT: To avoid disputes about whether written notice was afforded to an employee, employers should consider mailing all legally mandatedletters via a method requiring acknowledgment of receipt to avoid disputes, such as certified mail.

James E. Hall, Mark T. Kobata and Marty Denis are partners in the law firm Barlow, Kobata and Denis, which has offices in Los Angeles and Chicago. To comment, email FollowWorkforce on Twitter at @workforcenews.

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