A case brought by a Maryland Court of Appeals employee has changed the way FMLA is being interpreted thanks to a Supreme Court ruling against the plaintiff. The employee, Daniel Coleman, had initially sued his employer after being terminated for requesting “self-care” leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Armed with the argument that the Act provides employees the right to up to 12 weeks of leave time while in recovery from a serious medical illness, Coleman carried the case up the judicial chain to the Supreme Court.
The Court eventually ruled that state agencies and colleges cannot be sued for disregarding that section of the Act. Under the constitutional rule entitled sovereign immunity, “states, as sovereigns, are immune from suits for damages.” The only method for bypassing the rule, leading to the opening up of states to self-care lawsuits, would be for Congress to show that the self-care FMLA provision was passed in order to protect people from discrimination inherent within state policy. The Court found little evidence to support that the provision was passed for that purpose.
The Court was quick to point out that an individual may still seek a court ruling to stop a state from violating FMLA provisions but cannot recover any monetary damages for the self-care provision only. Other forms of FMLA leave are still open for lawsuits seeking monetary damages.