The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing oral argument today in Coleman v. Maryland Court of Appeals – a case that could erode the right of millions of state workers to take job-protected, unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) when faced with a serious illness.
The FMLA set an important family and medical leave standard that guarantees eligible workers – both women and men – up to 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave to recover from a serious illness or medical condition, including pregnancy or childbirth, or to care for a newborn, a newly adopted child or a seriously ill family member. The FMLA offered leave on a gender-neutral basis rather than creating a special right to self-care leave for medical illness surrounding pregnancy, in part to avoid creating perverse incentives for further discrimination against women.
Since its enactment 18 years ago, workers have used the FMLA more than 100 million times. The law has helped workers disabled by pregnancy or recovering from childbirth, workers with new babies and dying parents, workers who have had heart attacks and hysterectomies – in short, workers for whom job-protected leave is of critical importance. An adverse decision from the Supreme Court could put access to FMLA self-care leave at risk for millions of state workers. At stake is their fundamental right to take time off to address their own serious medical needs, including pregnancy and childbirth.
Petitioner Daniel Coleman was working for a Maryland court when his doctor ordered bed rest due to serious illness. Within hours of requesting medical leave, Coleman was fired. He then filed a lawsuit alleging a violation of the FMLA. Contrary to the plain language of the statute, the lower courts ruled that the state of Maryland could not be sued for monetary damages under the FMLA’s self-care provision.