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Coleman v. Court of Appeals of Maryland

    Brief Fact Summary.

    The issue of application of the employee health provision to state employers was raised before the United States Supreme Court.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    Congress does not have constitutional authority to apply the provision of the Family and Medical Leave Act permitting employees to take leave when they have serious health conditions that interfere with their ability to work to state employers.

    Facts.

    Under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), an employee may take leave to care for: (A) a newborn child, (B) a newly adopted child or newly placed foster-care child, (C) a spouse, child, or parent with “a serious health condition,” and (D) his or her own serious health condition, if it interferes with the ability to do his or her job. In Nevada Department of Human Resources v. Hibbs, 538 U.S. 721 (2003), the United States Supreme Court applied the spousal provision to state employers. The issue of application of the employee health provision to state employers was raised before the United States Supreme Court.

    Issue.

    Whether Congress has constitutional authority to apply the provision of the Family and Medical Leave Act permitting employees to take leave when they have serious health conditions that interfere with their ability to work to state employers.

    Held.

    The legislative history indicates that Congress was more concerned with “discrimination on the basis of illness, not sex.” Congress worried more that employees with serious health conditions suffered economically. The family-care provision of the FLMA, however, was motivated by gender concerns, as this Court found in Hibbs. Even though the employee-health provision permits some women to take leave for pregnancy-related health concerns, state employees can take leave for similar concerns under their paid sick-leave plans. Pregnancy discrimination was not a problem that Congress considered when it enacted the FMLA. Thus, Congress did not intend for the employee-health provision to apply to state employers.

    Dissent.

    This Court’s decision in Seminole Tribe is incorrect. Seminole Tribe of Fla. v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44 (1996). Congress may suspend a state’s Eleventh Amendment immunity under the Commerce Clause. Furthermore, the employee-health provision of the FMLA should be treated like the family-care provision. The legislative history indicates that Congress intended both provisions to combat pregnancy discrimination among state employers. This Court should overrule precedent holding that pregnancy discrimination is not sex discrimination. – Ginsburg

    Concurrence.

    The judgment of the Court, but not its reasoning, is correct. Under § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment, Congress may only regulate state action that itself violates the amendment. – Scalia

    Discussion.

    Congress does not have constitutional authority to apply the provision of the Family and Medical Leave Act permitting employees to take leave when they have serious health conditions that interfere with their ability to work to state employers. When Congress enacted the FMLA, most state employees had paid sick-leave plans. Moreover, there was no evidence that the paid sick-leave plans discriminated against women or perpetuated gender stereotypes. Because such evidence did not exist when Congress enacted the FMLA, prevention of gender discrimination and stereotyping among state paid sick-leave plans could not have been Congress’s goal.


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