Supreme Court Rules Workers Can't Sue States For Sick Leave

workers can't sue state for sick leaveBy Jesse J. Holland

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that states can't be sued under the Family and Medical Leave Act for refusing to give an employee time off to recover from an illness. One justice said the decision "dilutes the force" of the law that allows millions of working Americans time off to care for sick family members or to have children.

The high court refused to let Daniel Coleman sue the Maryland state Court of Appeals for damages for firing him after he asked for sick leave, blaming Congress for not equating family care and self-care when lawmakers wrote the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the controlling opinion, said Congress didn't investigate self-care the way it did family care when it passed the FMLA, leaving little "widespread evidence of sex discrimination or sex stereotyping in the administration of sick leave."

"Documented discrimination against women in the general workplace is a persistent unfortunate reality, and we must assume, a still prevalent wrong. An explicit purpose of the Congress in adopting the FMLA was to improve workplace conditions for women. But states may not be subject to suits for damages based on violations of a comprehensive statute unless Congress has identified a specific pattern of constitutional violations by state employers," said Kennedy, who was joined in his opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

Coleman asked for a 10-day medical leave to deal with hypertension and diabetes in 2007, and said he was wrongfully fired after his request was denied. He sued for $1.1 million in damages under the Family and Medical Leave Act, but his lawsuit was thrown out, with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals saying states couldn't be sued under the FMLA.

The 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act grants eligible workers up to a total of 12 weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period for such things as caring for a newborn or a sick family member, or because the employee has a serious health condition. It generally covers employers with 50 or more employees, which means it covers just about half of the U.S. workforce. Seven million of the 77.1 million FMLA-eligible people took leave in 2005.

Coleman argued to justices that he and some 5 million state workers like him should be able to sue for money damages for FMLA self-care violations but Maryland and 26 other states disagreed. They acknowledge they're bound by the Family and Medical Leave Act and must grant time off. But the states say that unlike private employers, states are protected by the Constitution from monetary damage suits that could drain a state's finances.

Kennedy agreed. For states to be sued under FMLA, "Congress must identify a pattern of constitutional violations and tailor a remedy congruent and proportional to the documented violations," Kennedy said. "It failed to do so when it allowed employees to sue state for violations of the FMLA's self-care provision."

Justice Antonin Scalia didn't join Kennedy's opinion but agreed with the judgment. The way the other justices made their decision "make no sense," Scalia said, but he said failing to grant a state employee leave for self-care "or any other purpose, for that matter" doesn't violate the Constitution's equal protection clause.

Four justices dissented, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who in an unusual move read her dissent aloud in court. Ginsburg reiterated the Act's intention was to end discrimination against women in the workplace based on their potential to become pregnant.

"The court's judgment dilutes the force of the Act and that is regrettable," she said. "But at least the damage is contained. The self-care provision remains valid Commerce Clause legislation and therefore applies, undiluted, in the private sector."

Ginsburg also said employees can still ask a judge to reverse any potential violation. "And the Department of Labor has authority to sue a state employer for violating the self-care provision, and to gain monetary relief for adversely affected employees," she said.

Ginsburg said she would have also taken the opportunity in this case to conclusively overturn a Supreme Court position in 1974's Geduldig v. Aiello decision that "discrimination on the basis of pregnancy is not discrimination on the basis of gender." "I would hold that Aiello was egregiously wrong," she said.

The case is Coleman v. Court of Appeals of Maryland, 10-1016.


Don't Miss: Companies Hiring Now



Looking for a job? Click here to get started.

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum

41 Comments

Filter by:
quixmar

JM -- Family leave is written in a way where it covers "FAMILY MEMBERS" and not you. I work for the Federal Government and the rules are extended to you as an employee too, but I do not get paid disability and had to rely on saved sick and vacation time which is already gone, so I have no income.

For you to blame the "Republicons" for a law written by "Idiotdems" is a bit of a stretch don't ya think?

March 22 2012 at 1:02 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
quixmar

In late September, I was hospitalized for a blood clot in my leg. My doctor told me 3 months off. I got Family Leave for the condition. In January it was extended more 3 months. New year, new Family Leave request. Mid March, and I'm looking to get back to work, a Doppler Scan was done and the clot is still present, so I'm off another 3 months. At this point, if they still hold my job, I would be grateful.

For those thinking of how "lucky" I am, in the US, 2 million people are diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis, and 300,000 die from it. The time off is to allow for rest while the clot is thinned out. There is no surgical option. I asked. Bottom line, between me living or losing my job, I would rather stay alive.

March 22 2012 at 12:58 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
jm

How do we dare to get sick and try to get sick leave benefits??? Don't we know that is a big offense for the republicons judges to agree with us, worthless working bees? Let us just go to work and die while we are at it and stop whining and complaining. The boss is always right and if we disagree with that, just simply quit our job and starve. The judges don't have time to hear about workers rights, they are just too busy taking their naps.

March 22 2012 at 12:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
lanajeane

Coughing, sneezing, barfing? Haul yourself into work and give the boss a big 'ole wet kiss!

March 21 2012 at 11:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jim

In response to some comments regarding sick days, vacation, etc. Some states, and I live in one, are VERY employer friendly. I have been told, during two seperate conversations with the labor board in this state, that private sector empoyers here are not required to give sick days, or vacation days for that matter. Salaried employees can be requirted to take vacation days if there is a loss of work for whatever reason if they want a full paycheck. However, as a salaried employee, the company can call the shots regarding the hours I am required to work and overtime never hits the table.

March 21 2012 at 9:36 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
rllynn61

I've read all the coments and I myself have FMLA . I have a few words to say about it. There is alot of abuse in this program,there is alot of people that have FMLA that take days off just because they can, THIS IS WRONG these are the people that you need to weed out ,just like the welfare people that can clam it, but dont need it. They need to do a little more resherch of why this person is on FMLA. As I said Im am on FMLA because I have CHRONES DISEASE. My problem with this whole thing is that big BIG BUSINESS AND THEIR INSURANCE COMPANY are in together to not pay out to the little pepole that deserve it .I have to return to work because I have not got sick pay and have exhausted all my resourses. I want to work, but have to go through all the bs to do so.

March 21 2012 at 9:31 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
wolfiegd

I wonder how many "paid" sick days the Supreme Idiots get? Wanna bet a lot more than most other working people.

March 21 2012 at 8:38 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Richie

Guess we lose again. GOD BLESS AMERICA ( the way it was )........

March 21 2012 at 7:22 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
lylenpat

HEY WHAT ELSE IS THE SUPREME COURT GOOD FOR. THESE DAYS IT IS ALL ABOUT UNDERMINING THE PRINCIPALS OF THE CONSTITUTION AND LAWS. IT'S WHAT HAPPENS WHEN PRESIDENTS GET TO NOMINATE THE JUDGES TO A LIFETIME SEAT ON THE BENCH. UNTIL THEY DIE OR RESIGN, THEY WILL DICTATE HOW, WHEN, AND WHY AMERICANS SHOULD ACT. WHEN ARE WE GOING TO AMEND THE PERMANENT SEATING OF THE SUPREME COURT TO A ROTATIONAL 9 YEAR CHANGE OUT. THE IDEA OF A PERMANANT SEAT WAS DERIVED WHEN THE CONSTITUTION WAS WRITTEN AND WHEN THE UNITED STATES WAS CREATED. THE AVERAGE AGE OF MOST AT THE TIME OF THE REVELOUTION WAS AROUND 45 TO 50 YEARS. NOW MOST PEOPLE LIVE TO AVERAGE AGE OF 75 TO 80. THERE IS NO NEW THINKING OR CREATIVITY WHEN A JUDGE GETS A RIDE FOR 30 OR 40 YEARS AND NO ONE CAN FIRE HIM/HER. WE NEED CHANGE TO THIS.

March 21 2012 at 7:02 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Vonnie

28Worked 45 years, earned 4 hrs S/L each two week pay period. Retired with 3128 outstanding hours S/L on the books. No pay for that which was right as it was there if/when I needed it, that's what counted. However, the 3128 hrs were added in time towards my high 3-yr earnings upon which my retirement was paid. Some people belive S/L is a bonus to be used as desired. Shame on them!

March 21 2012 at 6:54 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Vonnie's comment
valgaavmiko

And this person was not. He had diabetes and hypertension and needed sick leave. I really don't understand employers that get ticked off when a person needs leave on an occasional basis. Having sick people at work gets other employees sick, ruins productivity, and can just make a sick person sicker. It's a very bad business policy.

March 21 2012 at 9:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to valgaavmiko's comment
aboss68020

Hypertension and diabetes are not communicable diseases!

March 21 2012 at 11:09 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down

Search Articles

Top Companies Hiring

Week of Oct 19 - 26
View All

Featured Writers

Meet the team

Picks From the Web