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.