March 21st, 2012 | Comments Off

In a ruling released yesterday, Coleman v. Maryland Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court held that the FMLA’s provisions for leave to care for an individual’s own serious health condition could not be applied to employees of State (not local gov’t) agencies under the doctrine of sovereign immunity (the 10th Amendment), and suits against states for violating the FMLA relating to the self-care provisions were barred by the 11th Amendment. It held e Congress did not have the power to abrogate the state’s sovereign immunity for such a purpose under the 14th Amendment.

This does not affect FMLA leave requirements where the purpose is to care for “: (A) “the birth of a son or daughter . . . in order to care for such son or daughter,” (B) the adoption or foster-care placement of a child with the employee, (C) the care of a “spouse . . . son, daughter, or parent” with “a serious health condition,”  In Nevada Dept of Human Resources v. Hibbs, the Court had held that there was evidence that states administered their leave policies in a sexually discriminatory manner with respect to granting leaves for care of immediate family members, so that the 14th Amendment allowed Congress to abrogate State sovereign immunity and permit suits against states for violation of the FMLA in such cases.  The Coleman case (decided by a 4-1-4 vote –with Kennedy writing the majority opinion and with Scalia separately concurring in a decision urging that the Court apply an even stricter standard against federal laws that permit suits against states) dealt only with the FMLA provision requiring leave to care for the employee’s own  serious health condition.  Thus the FMLA’s leave requirements for purposes listed in (A), (B) and (C) above still can be applied against states. If the purpose of the leave is to care for the State employee’s own serious health condition, enforcement in federal courts is blocked by the 10th and 11th amendments. Local governments don’t have sovereign immunity under the 10th and 11th amendments, and thus the FMLA in its entirety can be applied to them.