Sinacole v. iGate Capital a/k/a iGate Capital Corp., 2008 WL 3166000 (3d Cir., August 5, 2008) – Joining other federal courts, the Third Circuit recently rejected a Department of Labor regulation, 29 C.F.R. §825.110(d), which deems an employee eligible for FMLA leave, even if the employee does not satisfy the FMLA’s eligibility requirements, when an employer fails to advise an employee of his/her eligibility after leave is requested. Here, the plaintiff had not worked the required 1,250 hours in the 12 months preceding her requested leave, but her employer failed to respond to her request for FMLA leave for the birth of her child. She took the leave, and upon providing notice of her intent to return to work, she was advised of her termination. The employee argued that under the DOL regulation, she must be deemed eligible for leave and that her employer unlawfully interfered with her FMLA rights by terminating her employment.
The Court rejected the employee’s FMLA claim, declaring the regulation invalid because “[i]t is the sole province of Congress to establish the scope of employees who have rights under the FMLA.” The Court also rejected the employee’s related equitable estoppel claim, finding she could not demonstrate she suffered a detriment in the context of an FMLA interference claim. However, the Court noted that it “makes no comment” on the applicability of an equitable estoppel theory to an FMLA discrimination claim, leaving open the possibility that such a theory is viable in that context.