Supreme Court Deals Devastating Blow to Middle Class Workers


The Supreme Court dealt middle class workers another devastating blow on Tuesday ruling that states cannot be sued for money damages for violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). It’s a decision that could affect millions of state workers and chips away at the meager protections women in particular have left from workplace discrimination.

At issue was the law’s “self-care” provision that allows a worker to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off to recover from a serious illness or medical condition. In 2003 the Supreme Court ruled that states can be sued for money damages under a different provision of the law that allows employees to take time off to care for a seriously ill family member.

But Tuesday the Court’s conservative majority, in a 5-4 decision, ruled that the self-care provision was somehow different.

Daniel Coleman worked for the Administrative Office of the Courts for the Maryland judiciary and sued the state for money damages claiming he was wrongly fired for trying to take a 10-day medical leave in 2007 to deal with hypertension and diabetes. Maryland argued it was constitutionally protected from such lawsuits under the 11th Amendment and five of the justices on the Court agreed.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg took the rare step of reading part of her dissent from the bench and said the law was a proper exercise of Congress’ power to remedy the problem of workplace discrimination. “Congress adopted leave policies from which all could benefit,” she said. “The inequality Congress sought to overcome seems to me well within the national legislature’s authority to address.”

The point underscored by Justice Ginsburg cannot be stressed enough. This is a decision that will dramatically impact women who rely on the FMLA to protect their job when they take maternity leave. Now, thanks to the Court, should a state employer violate FMLA during that leave she effectively has no remedy.

So just so we’re clear, that means that in the United States women (or men for that matter) still have no paid family leave and now no longer have the ability to enforce the very laws designed to protect that leave in the first place.


Related Stories:

SCOTUS Considers Medical Leave For State Workers

Family Medical Leave Act Amendments For Military Families And Caregivers

Family And Medical Leave Act 19 Years Later: Big Impact, Big Challenges


Photo from Emery Co Photo via flickr.


L Gatton
L Gatton4 years ago

I am shocked beyond belief. The conservatives keep trumpeting family values, and SCOTUS conservatives just dealt that ideology a crushing blow. State governments are jumping for joy right now. Don't think for a minute this will not extend to federal, county, and municipal employees and then on into the public sector. FMLA rules will now be conviently be "hidden" or "forgotten" as in, whoops, sorry, we made a mistake, too bad for you. I would also bet my bottom dollar that if the employee would even so much as sign their name illegibly the employer would void the FMLA. We reap what we sow, people. Keep voting in the bozos whose only God is the almighty dollar and see how long it takes for our country to become one of the 10% vs. the 90%. See you in the bread line.

Daniel A.
Daniel A5 years ago

continue-=here in the United States? Where is the Compassionate Republican of Yesterday? Gone With the Wind and Money!

Daniel A.
Daniel A5 years ago

Mike--you just raised the most major issue of election. Yet, it has only been discussed tangentially. That issue is concerned with what is known as "States Rights". We've come a long way since 1861, and the issue is still with us. I should like to offer an argument for a wider than "strict construction" of the rights enumerated and not enumerated wording of Amendment X, in the context of the whole Constitution. The Federal Government is charged with many legal responsibilities and granted many powers within the body of the Constitution. One of them is the notion of the "Common Weal", which means the well being and economic health of the nation. To this end we have the Commerce Clause, the International Treaty power, revenue raising, etc. If an American citizen is mistreated under Federal Law, and doe
not have recourse, then maybe the United States of America has lost the Civil War. Sure, it might be great if we passed another Amendment guaranteeing State Workers equal rights to workers in Private Enterprise, but given the condition of our political system, we can't even get a budget passed, let alone an Amendment. Don't the States believe in Liberty and Justice for All? How can they claim that their workers are treated fairly, when they are not treated equally, under this law? On the human level, this matter ends up being a case of kicking a person when that person needs medical attention. I would expect this from a Chinese or North Korean government, but Her

Lynn Squance
Lynn S5 years ago

The US --- land of the free?
The US --- land of opportunity?
More likely --- land of butt kickings if you want the opportunity to raise a family, assuming you can afford health care insurance and don't need a job to survive on!

The 5 Injustices need to be impeached, but how will that happen with the Republican/Teabaggers in control of the Congress? It won't. Vote Democrat in 2012! and then line up to hold Congress's feet to the perverbial fire.

Dennis Deal
Past Member 5 years ago

Hanns B. In America the company does not care if the worker has strong family life. In fact most companies with a few exceptions have only one goal in mind. Profit. As large as it can be. Nothing else matter to90% of all companies here in the states. Every thing.. And I do mean everything else is just noise.

All the bull of how green a said company is.. Or how much they really care about social issues. How big of a tax write off is how much those companies care.

In fact most companies would rather turn the clock back far enough to outlaw unions, get rid of OSHA, as well as any law that prohibits them from polluting or dumping their waste as they see fit.

Welcome to America where people will vote against their own best interests do it in the name of a loyalty not deserved. Tea party as a shining example of such a movement to kow tow to the corporations that really could careless about people or their workers.

Hanns B.
Hanns B.5 years ago

What I don't understand is some form of medical and maternity leave is available to ALL workers in Western European countries and are usually quite generous to the worker and their spouse.
This leads to the study's showing that Western European populations are among the happiest and most content in the world! Not only that but the less pressure put on working families who need the very protections FMLA provides ( It really needs to be made more liberal by offering PAID leave, etc.) also would lead to stronger family units and better test scores of students like you will find in Finland and other Scandinavian countries, too!
The American system is just plain "Mean" and hostile towards workers seeking to make a better life than they already have!

Dennis Deal
Past Member 5 years ago

Time to rewrite this law so that it has more teeth..

Ira L.
Ellie L5 years ago

IMPEACH! FOR GOD'S SAKE, They are destroying everything good about America. They are treasonous, bought and paid for by the wealthy, committed to do everything they can to further the cause and "sick" agenda of the tea party republicans. To hell with those 5 despicable liars. OUT! OUT! OUT!
Don't waste another minute -- IMPEACH the 5 Unjustices NOW!!!!

Edith B.
Edith B5 years ago

State and other government workers are traditional scapegoats. The typical view is that they do no work when, actually, they work their tails off for about 2/3 the money the private sector makes, and we would all be pitifully worse off without their assistance. I am not surprised that Scotus did this to them.

Charles P.
Charles P5 years ago

Scalia and Thomas are, in my opinion, corrupt. They have attended functons thrown by people who have an interest in cases coming before the court. Remember, wasn't it scalia that went duck hunting with cheney when an issue he was heavily in favor of was scheduled to be heard. Yeah, there's no influence there. Alito is just, imho, a dummy that follows the crowd.