FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Women’s Leader Calls Supreme Court’s Coleman Ruling "Appalling and Dangerous"
Statement of Debra L. Ness, President, National Partnership for Women & Families
WASHINGTON, D.C. — March 20, 2012 — "Today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in Coleman v. Maryland Court of Appeals is a deep and bitter disappointment. By the narrowest of margins, the Court ruled that millions of state workers all across this country will have no meaningful recourse if their employers deny them medical leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This effectively puts state workers and their families at risk when workers become pregnant or illness strikes. It is an appalling and dangerous ruling that simply cannot stand.
States should be held accountable for violating the fundamental rights of workers. All too frequently, workers suffer negative consequences after requesting or taking leave to address their medical needs. We intend to appeal to state governments to uphold these rights and pursue every possible avenue to restore them for all state workers. The FMLA has been law for nearly 20 years, and it has worked well to provide unpaid, job-protected family and medical leave to support workers with caregiving responsibilities. The Supreme Court previously upheld the rights of state workers to hold their employers accountable for violating the family leave provision of the FMLA, and it should have used the same standard to protect state workers who need medical leave under the law.
As Justice Ginsburg said in her very powerful dissent, "the self-care provision validly enforces the right to be free from gender discrimination in the workplace." Justice Ginsburg noted that “[t]he plurality pays scant attention to the overarching aim of the FMLA: to make it feasible for women to work while sustaining family life. Over the course of eight years, Congress considered the problem of workplace discrimination against women, and devised the FMLA to reduce sex-based inequalities in leave programs. The self-care provision is a key part of that endeavor, and in my view, a valid exercise of congressional power...."
Even Justice Kennedy’s opinion acknowledged that "[d]ocumented 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.”
Today’s ruling underscores how tenuous the rights of workers are in this country, and the urgent imperative for the Senate to confirm only those justices and judges who have a demonstrated commitment to equal rights under the law and a real understanding of the impact of their rulings on women, workers and others who struggle to make ends meet."
The National Partnership for Women & Families drafted and led the fight to pass the Family & Medical Leave Act. It 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.