National Partnership for Women & Families

Civil and Workers' Rights Groups Urge the U.S. Supreme Court to Protect State Employees' Right to Discrimination-Free Workplaces, Unpaid Medical Leave

Nation's Top Family and Medical Leave Act Expert Leads Coalition in Calling on the Court to Recognize the Law's Intent
Washington, D.C. — September 30, 2011 —

On Tuesday, a group of 10 top civil and workers’ rights organizations, led by the National Partnership for Women & Families, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in an important Family and Medical Leave Act case, Daniel Coleman v. Maryland Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court will hear oral argument later this term, in early 2012.

At issue in the case is whether state employees have the right to take leave for their own serious medical needs, including pregnancy and childbirth, under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and if states can be held accountable for violating the law.

According to the brief, by enacting the FMLA, Congress sought to address and prevent sex discrimination in the private and public sectors by guaranteeing access to family and medical leave on a gender-neutral basis. The brief says, “Congress clearly intended to grant state employees access to job-protected leave to attend to their health needs. The FMLA’s leave provisions and job protections would be rendered meaningless unless eligible employees — including those who work for state governments — can request and take leave without fear of reprisal.”

In 2007, Maryland Court of Appeals employee Daniel Coleman was fired after his doctor put him on bed rest and he requested medical leave. Coleman filed a lawsuit under the self-care provision of the FMLA, which guarantees eligible employees 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave each year to recover from a serious health condition. Lower courts concluded that the state of Maryland is immune to such claims based on the 11th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Coleman has appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Court ruled in a similar FMLA case, Nevada Department of Human Resources v. Hibbs, in 2003. In that case, it ruled that Congress did intend to cover state employees with the family-care provision of the law, and that states can be sued for violations because the purpose of the provision is to prevent discrimination against women in the workplace. The brief argues that, under the same analysis, state employees should be permitted to sue under the self-care provision because its primary purpose is to address unconstitutional discrimination against women.

“A decision denying state employees the right to enforce the FMLA’s self-care provision would undermine the FMLA’s overall effectiveness and severely hamper efforts to equalize the treatment of men and women in the workplace,” the brief concludes.

The brief was filed on behalf of the National Partnership for Women & Families, AARP, AFSCME International, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), A Better Balance, the National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA), the National Senior Citizens Law Center (NSCLC), the National Women’s Law Center, 9to5, National Association of Working Women and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

The National Partnership drafted and led the fight to pass the FMLA, which was enacted in 1993. The law has been used more than 100 million times, and it is estimated that 6.1 million public and private-sector workers take leave under it each year.

The brief is available online at: www.nationalpartnership.org/Coleman

Contact

Sadie Kliner (202) 986-2600 skliner@nationalpartnership.org

The National Partnership for Women & Families drafted and led the fight for the Family and Medical Leave Act. The organization is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group dedicated to promoting fairness in the workplace, access to quality health care and policies that help women and men meet the dual demands of work and family. More information is available at www.NationalPartnership.org.

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