Employment-Third Circuit Rules That Mailbox Rule Presumption, Of Receipt By Employee Of A Letter Designating Her Absence As FMLA Leave, Is Not Sufficient To Support Summary Judgment Against Employee’s FMLA Claims

In Lupyan v. Corinthian Colleges Inc., No. 13-1843 (Third Circuit 2014), Lisa Lupyan (“Lupyan”) was appealing the summary judgment rendered by the district court in favor of her former employer, Corinthian Colleges, Inc. (“CCI”) on her claims of interference with the exercise of her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (the “FMLA” ) and retaliation for her exercise of those rights.

In this case, Lupyan was hired as an instructor in CCI’s Applied Science Management program in 2004. In December 2007, in response to the suggestion by her supervisor that she take leave from work since she looked depressed, Lupyan filed a Request for Leave Form. CCI’s human resources department determined that Lupyan was eligible for leave under the FMLA.

On December 19, 2007, Sherri Hixson, CCI’s Supervisor of Administration, met with Lupyan and instructed her to initial the box marked “Family Medical Leave” on her Request for Leave Form. Hixson also changed Lupyan’s projected date of return to April 1, 2008, based upon the Certification of Health Provider provided by Lupyan. Lupyan contends–and CCI does not dispute –that her rights under the FMLA were never discussed during this meeting. However, later that afternoon CCI allegedly mailed Lupyan a letter advising her that her leave was designated as FMLA leave, and further explaining her rights under that act (the Letter”). Lupyan denies ever having received the Letter, and denies having any knowledge that she was on FMLA leave until she attempted to return to work.

Lupyan did not return to work by April 1, 2008. She was advised, on April 9, 2008, that she was being terminated from her position at CCI due to low student enrollment, and because she had not returned to work within the twelve weeks allotted for FMLA leave. Lupyan claims this was the first time she had any knowledge that she was on FMLA leave. This suit ensued, with Lupyan claiming that CCI interfered with her rights under the FMLA by failing to give notice that her leave fell under that act, and that she was fired in retaliation for taking FMLA leave.

In analyzing the case, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals (the “Court”) noted that the FMLA regulations require an employer give to employees individual written notice that an absence falls under the FMLA, and is therefore governed by it. 29 CFR ยง 825.208. Failure to provide the required notice can constitute an interference claim. Here, Lupyan claims that CCI interfered with her FMLA rights by not informing her that her leave was under the FMLA. According to her, she therefore was unaware of the requirement that she had to return to work within twelve weeks or be subject to termination.
The issue in this case is whether Lupyan received the Letter. The law contains a presumption of receipt under the “mailbox rule”. Under this rule, if a letter properly directed is proved to have been either put into the post-office or delivered to the postman, it is presumed that it reached its destination at the regular time, and was received by the person to whom it was addressed. However, this is only a rebuttable presumption. Given Lupyan’s denial that the Letter was received, and the ease with which a letter can be certified, tracked, or proof of receipt obtained in order to prove delivery, that rebuttable presumption is not sufficient to establish receipt as a matter of law and thereby entitle CCI to summary judgment. Accordingly, given certain consideration about the interference and retaliation claim, the Court reversed the district court’s summary judgment, and remanded the case back to the district court.