AG Gansler Prevails at Supreme Court
High Court Reaffirms Value of State Sovereignty
Baltimore, MD (March 20, 2012) - The U.S. Supreme Court today upheld a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit that found that Maryland is protected by state sovereign immunity from suits for money damages brought under the self-care provision of the Family and Medical Leave Act. Attorney General Doug Gansler represented the Maryland Court of Appeals at the high court.
"We are pleased to have achieved a successful result for our client, and pleased that the Supreme Court agreed with the Fourth Circuit's unanimous decision," said Attorney General Gansler. "The Court's opinion reaffirms the sovereignty of states that is so critical to Maryland, and to the function of our country's federal system of government."
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in four circumstances. The first three of these, referred to as the "family-care" provisions, are for situations where the employee needs to take leave for bearing or caring for a child, adopting or providing foster care for a child, or caring for a family member with a serious health condition. The fourth provision, the "self-care" provision, allows employees to take leave when they themselves are ill. The FMLA allows an employee to sue an employer who denies leave in any of these four circumstances. State employees are entitled to the same leave under the FMLA as employees in the private sector; however, the doctrine of sovereign immunity limits the types of suits that may be brought against a state, and a federal law that creates the right to sue a state must be narrowly targeted at combatting unconstitutional discrimination.
Today, the Supreme Court ruled that state employees cannot sue a state for money damages based on an alleged denial of "self-care" leave. The Court thus affirmed the decisions reached by both lower courts in this case. In reaching this result, the Court broke no new ground. As it stated, its ruling is "[i]n agreement with every Court of Appeals to have addressed this question."
The Attorney General would like to thank Deputy Attorney General John B. Howard, Jr., for his outstanding appellate advocacy in this case.