Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Work for the State? NO FMLA!

Today, the Supreme Court ruled that a state employee does not have the right to sue his/her employer for violating the provision of the Family & Medical Leave Act that provide employees the right to job-protected leave due to their own medical condition. The Court found that there was no history of gender-based discrimination in sick leave policies and, thus, unlike the provision of the FMLA that allows an employee to take leave to care for a spouse or child's illness -- clearly a gender-based issue -- employees do not have a right to sue to enforce this part of the FMLA. State employees, this is a HUGE deal if you're using FMLA for job-protected medical leave. I suspect Congress will fix this eventually, but for now, you have no right to sue your state employer if it violates your FMLA right to job-protected medical leave. Below is the statement of Debra Ness, which gives you some more insight into the decision. This is a HUGE loss. Jennifer

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."

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