Nev. Dep't of Human Res. v. Hibbs

538 U.S. 721, 123 S. Ct. 1972 (2003)



The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA or Act) entitles eligible employees to take up to 12 work weeks of unpaid leave annually for any of several reasons, including the onset of a "serious health condition" in an employee's spouse, child, or parent. 29 U.S.C.S. § 2612(a)(1)(C). The Act creates a private right of action to seek both equitable relief and money damages against any employer (including a public agency) in any Federal or State court of competent jurisdiction, 29 U.S.C.S. § 2617(a)(2), should that employer interfere with, restrain, or deny the exercise of FMLA rights, 29 U.S.C.S. § 2615(a)(1).


An employee sought leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) with the Nevada Department of Human Resources to care for his ailing wife. The Nevada Department of Human Resources granted the employee's request but terminated him when he failed to return to work. The former employee sued the Nevada Department of Human Resources and officers seeking damages and injunctive and declaratory relief for violations of the FMLA. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the state. On appeal, the summary judgment was reversed and the court ruled in favor of the employee. 


Can the employee sue the State for money damages in federal court?




The Court determined that the employee could sue the State for money damages in federal court for violation of 29 U.S.C.S. § 2612(a)(1)(C). Congress acted within its constitutional authority when it sought to abrogate the States' immunity for purposes of the FMLA's family-leave provision. Congress validly exercised its power under U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 5 by enacting the prophylactic legislation in order to prevent and deter gender-based discrimination in the workplace. The States' record of unconstitutional participation in, and fostering of, gender-based discrimination in the administration of leave benefits was weighty enough to justify the enactment of prophylactic § 5 legislation. 29 U.S.C.S. § 2612(a)(1)(C) was congruent and proportional to its remedial object, and could be understood as responsive to, or designed to prevent, unconstitutional behavior.

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