U.S. Supreme Court Rules That State Employees Cannot Sue under "Self-Care" Provisions of the FMLA

by Franczek Radelet P.C.
Contact

[author: Jeff Nowak]

maryland_flag1.jpgThat pesky State of Maryland! (Not that I hold grudges all these years after your Maryland Terapins beat my Indiana Hoosiers for the 2002 NCAA basketball championship!)

With a little assistance from the U.S. Supreme Court, the State of Maryland avoided potential FMLA liability yesterday in Coleman v. State of Maryland Court of Appeals when the Supremes held that the Family and Medical Leave Act does not allow lawsuits against states by their employees when the suit deals with the "self-care" provisions of the FMLA. Consequently, Maryland's victory is a win for all states and their subdivisions.

The Facts

Plaintiff Daniel Coleman worked for the Maryland Court of Appeals. A good employee by all accounts, Coleman requested FMLA leave as a result of his own alleged serious health condition. Instead of providing leave, however, the Court of Appeals fired him. Not surprisingly, Coleman sued his employer.

Maryland asked the trial court to dismiss Coleman's lawsuit because it was barred by Maryland's sovereign immunity. What is sovereign immunity? It is a legal privilege under which federal, state and local governments cannot be sued unless they agree to be sued. (Wouldn't that be a neat trick for the rest of us private citizens to invoke, too?) In order to work around the privilege of sovereign immunity and allow private lawsuits against state entities, Congress has to show that the self-care provision of the FMLA remedies a pattern of gender-based discrimination (or some other form of legally cognizable discrimination) in states' sick leave policies. Here, Maryland argued that the self-care provision of the FMLA was passed pursuant to the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which cannot be used to bypass the states' sovereign immunity.

The trial court and appellate court agreed. And so did the Supreme Court. For several of the conservative justices, the decision was an easy one, since there arguably is little evidence that Congress passed the self-care provisions of the FMLA to right the wrongs of gender discrimination. However, in an interesting exchange during oral argument before the high court, Justice Samuel Alito seemed concerned by the apparent unfairness of the result here -- that state employees would have no legal recourse in the event they were denied FMLA leave for self-care or terminated because of the need for leave. Ultimately, Justice Alito suggested that an employee still could seek an injunction to stop the employer from violating the FMLA, even though the employee could recover no monetary damages.

Insights for Employers

Keep in mind that this decision only affects employees of the states and their subdivisions. Therefore, public employers cannot to be sued under the "self-care" provision of the FMLA (so long as they have not voluntarily ceded their sovereign immunity with respect to the FMLA). Other forms of FMLA leave (e.g., caring for a family member), however, still remain protected.

Interestingly, the Supreme Court has not ruled on whether states can be sued under the FMLA for "bonding" leave and similar forms of FMLA leave. Thus, public employers should be cautious when seeking to deny FMLA leave for reasons other than self-care.

Similarly, it is vital for employers -- public and private alike -- to enforce sick leave and FMLA policies consistently to avoid claims of discrimination. Failing to do so could subject you to liability under other federal, state or local employment laws.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Franczek Radelet P.C. | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Franczek Radelet P.C.
Contact
more
less

Franczek Radelet P.C. on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):
hide

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.

Security

JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.