Human Resources News & Insights

Part of FMLA voided by the Supreme Court

First, the feds passed a law that says employers have to provide employees up to 12 weeks of leave to recover from a serious medical condition. And now they’re saying state agencies and state colleges are exempt – or at least they can’t be sued for ignoring that part of the FMLA.

Here’s what happened: Daniel Coleman worked for the Maryland Court of Appeals. By all accounts, he was a good employee. But when he requested leave under the Family Medical Leave Act to care for his own serious medical condition, he was fired.

He sued, and his case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled 5 to 4 that state agencies and state colleges can’t be sued by employees for violating the “self-care” provision of the FMLA.

Why? It all boils down to sovereign immunity — a constitutional rule that says “states, as sovereigns, are immune from suits for damages.”

In order to bypass the sovereign immunity rule, and open states up to FMLA self-care lawsuits, Congress would have to show that it passed the provision to protect individuals from a pattern of discrimination that was created as a result of state policies.

But there was little evidence that Congress passed the self-care provision of the FMLA to right the wrongs of discrimination in the states.

Therefore states can’t be held financially liable for failing to comply with the FMLA’s self-care provision. But one of the justices did point out that an employee could still seek an injunction to stop a state agency from violating the FMLA, it’s just that the employee couldn’t try to recover monetary damages.

The ruling only applies to the self-care provision, under which an individuals can seek leave to care for him/herself. Employees can still seek monetary damages for violations of other forms of FMLA leave — like caring for a family member.

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  • H2r

    The Supreme Court didn’t void part of the FMLA law, it only ruled that states have sovereign immunity, which would likely be the ruling if you brought other litigation against the state. The litigant can still seek an injunction, which means he can be reinstated to his job by the court. I think the article is a little misleading.

  • MMAN

    “The ruling only applies to the self-care provision, under which an individuals can seek leave to care for him/herself. Employees can still seek monetary damages for violations of other forms of FMLA leave — like caring for a family member.”

    HUH??? If one couldn’t expect to recover monetary damages for being denied FMLA for your own serious health condition from a state entity, how would one expect to recover damages from FMLA violations by the same for caring for another member of the family.

    On another note, while the state may not be able to be held liable for violations of FMLA as in this case, the person responsible for interfering with this individuals rights here should be held personally liable.

  • H2r

    MMAN: I think what they are saying is that this ruling doesn’t address other parts of the law, although the result would likely be the same if attempting to recover damages for caring for a family member. You have a good point about holding the individual personally liable, unless individuals that work for the state have immunity as well.

  • MMAN

    @H2r- I figured as much but still the article is very confusing…but so are court decisions.

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