By a 5-4 vote, a divided United States Supreme Court recently held that States are immune from liability for alleged violations of the FMLA’s “self-care” provision. In Coleman v. Court of Appeals of Maryland, an employee of the Maryland Court of Appeals alleged that his employer (a state agency) violated the FMLA by denying him sick leave. The FMLA provides that covered employees may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year for: (a) care of a newborn or adopted child or of a spouse, son, daughter, or parent with a serious medical condition (the “family-care” provisions); or (b) the employee’s own serious health condition when the condition interferes with the employee’s ability to perform at work (the “self-care” provision). The Supreme Court affirmed the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal’s holding that States have sovereign immunity from liability for alleged violations of the “self-care” provision of the FMLA.
The Court’s ruling contrasts with its 2003 ruling that States do not enjoy sovereign immunity (and therefore may be liable) for violations of the FMLA’s “family care” provisions. In so holding, the Court recognized policy differences in Congress’ enacting the various FMLA provisions, and found the “self-help” provision was not aimed at preventing sex discrimination in the workplace as were the “family-care” provisions. As a result, while FMLA protections are available to employees of state agencies who require leave to care for family members, they cannot sue their employers if the agency denies them FMLA leave to care for their own serious medical condition. To view the Opinion, please click here.