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Appeals court rules against California company in FMLA case

A federal appeals court ruling against a California-based company could impact other cases involving the Family and Medical Leave Act and specifically how FMLA-related notices are sent to employees. The case was brought by a woman who worked as an instructor for Corinthian Colleges Inc., which is headquartered in Santa Ana.

According to the suit, the plaintiff was terminated from her position in 2008 for not returning to work after the 12 weeks allowed by the FMLA. She also claimed that the company terminated her approximately 18 weeks after her leave began as retaliation for taking time off. Corinthian has said that they terminated her because of low enrollment by students.

Corinthian says that it sent a notice to the plaintiff via regular U.S. mail that her FMLA leave would expire on April 1, 2008. She says she never received it and that she was not told by the company that her leave fell under the FMLA.

The reason for the plaintiff's leave was not reported. However, according to the information in the ruling, the plaintiff said that in late 2007, a supervisor had "noticed that she seemed depressed and suggested she take a personal leave of absence."

The Aug. 5 appeals court reverses the ruling of a district court that dismissed the case. The appeals court stated that sending mandatory FMLA notices via regular U.S. mail is not sufficient. In its ruling, the court noted, "In this age of computerized communications and handheld devices, it is certainly not expecting too much to require businesses that wish to avoid a material dispute…to use some form of mailing that includes verifiable receipt…." The court decision also reinstated the plaintiff's claim of retaliation.

One attorney says that this is the first court ruling to address the way in which FMLA-related notices are sent. He notes that this is an issue that FMLA regulations fail to address.

The FMLA is a broad-reaching and significant law that employers here in California and across the country are required to follow. People's jobs and possibly careers hang in the balance if their employers fail to follow FMLA regulations or use an employee's decision to exercise their rights under the act. Those who believe that they were harmed because of their employer's failure to follow the letter or spirit of the law may benefit from seeking legal guidance to determine what action they can take.

Source: Business Insurance, "FMLA-related notices should not be sent by regular mail: Court" Judy Greenwald, Aug. 07, 2014

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