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In Coleman v. Maryland Court
of Appeals [an enhanced version of this opinion is available to lexis.com subscribers],
the Fourth Circuit joined five other appellate courts in holding that the
self-care provision of the Family and Medical Leave Act does not apply to the
states because Congress did not properly abrogate the states' Eleventh
Amendment immunity. Despite the lack of any apparent Circuit split on the
issue, the Supreme Court granted Coleman's petition for a writ of certiorari
to address the question of "[w]hether Congress constitutionally
abrogated the states' Eleventh Amendment Immunity when it passed the self-care
provision of the Family and Medical Leave Act." On March 20, 2012, the
Supreme Court affirmed the Fourth Circuit's decision by a 5-4 vote, clarifying
that, while the family-care provisions of the FMLA validly abrogate the states'
sovereign immunity, the self-care provision does not.
Coleman was the Court's third look at the FMLA, and its second look at
the issue of immunity. The first FMLA case to get the Court's attention was Ragsdale
v. Wolverine Worldwide, Inc., where the Court rejected a 1995 DOL
regulation that extended leave beyond the 12 week entitlement if the employer
failed to notify the employee that leave would be treated as FMLA leave. The
next year, in Nevada Dept. of Human Res. v. Hibbs, the Court considered
whether Congress abrogated Eleventh Amendment immunity, but limited the ruling
to the family care provisions of the Act.
The FMLA provision at issue in Coleman was section 2612(a)(1)(D), that
permits leave "[b]ecause of a serious health condition that makes the
employee unable to perform the functions of the position of such
Few facts were relevant to the case before the Court. Daniel Coleman was
employed by the Court of Appeals of Maryland. Coleman alleged that when he
requested sick leave, he was told that he would be terminated if he did not
resign. Coleman sued for, among other things, violation of the FMLA. The District
Court granted the State of Maryland's motion to dismiss, holding that the FMLA
claim was barred by Eleventh Amendment Immunity. Coleman appealed, and the
Fourth Circuit affirmed on the same grounds: Congress did not validly abrogate
the states' immunity when it passed the FMLA self-care provision. [footnotes
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