Petitioner Daniel Coleman was employed by the Court of Appeals of the State of Maryland. When Coleman requested sick leave, he was informed he would be terminated if he did not resign. Coleman then sued the state court in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, alleging, inter alia,? that his employer violated the FMLA by failing to provide him with self- care leave.
The District Court dismissed the suit on the basis that the Maryland Court of Appeals, as an entity of a sovereign State, was immune from the suit for damages. The District Court concluded the FMLA?s self-care provision did not validly abrogate the State?s immunity from suit.? ?The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed, reasoning that, unlike the family care provision, the self-care provision was not directed at an identified pattern of gender-based discrimination and was not congruent and proportional to any pattern of sex-based discrimination on the part of States.?? ?The United States Supreme Court affirmed.
Writing for a plurality of four, Justice Kennedy reiterated ?the ?general ?rule ?that ?States,? as sovereigns, are immune from suits for damages. Congress, however, may abrogate the States? immunity from suit pursuant to its powers under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment. ?Section 5 grants Congress the power ?to enforce? the substantive guarantees of ?1 of the Amendment by ?appropriate legislation.?? ?In order to lawfully exercise this function, Congress must tailor legislation enacted under Section 5 to remedy or prevent conduct which violate the substantive provision of Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment.?? ?In addition,?[t]here must be a congruence and proportionality between the injury to be prevented or remedied and the means adopted to that end.?
Previously, the Court upheld the abrogation of sovereign immunity contained in the FMLA on the basis that leave for the care of a spouse, child, or parent ?with ?a? serious ?health ?condition. ?Nevada Dept. of Human Resources v. Hibbs, 538 U.? S. 721, 727?728 (2003). ?That ruling was justified on the grounds that States had family-leave policies that ?differentiated ?on ?the? basis ?of? sex ?and ?that States administered neutral family-leave policies in ways that discriminated on the basis of sex. ?These practices reflected what? Congress found to be a ?pervasive? ?sex-role? ?stereotype? ?that? ?caring?? for family members is women?s work.? Id. at 731.
The Court distinguished leave for family and leave for self-care.?? While the former was based upon sex-role stereotypes, the latter is not.?? ?What the family-care provisions have to support them, the self-care provision lacks, namely evidence of a pattern of state constitutional violations accompanied by a remedy drawn in narrow terms to address or prevent those violations.?
The Court rejected the argument that the self-care provision is a valid abrogation of the States? immunity from suit because it was enacted without regard? to? distinctions? on? the basis? of sex.??? The Court also rejected the argument that the self-care provision is a necessary adjunct to the family-care provisions: ??Congress made no findings and did not ?cite? specific ?or ?detailed ?evidence ?to ?show how the self-care provision is necessary to the family-care provisions or how it reduces an employer?s incentives to discriminate against women.?? ??Congress must rely on more than abstract generalities to subject the States to suits for damages.?
The? Court ?also ?rejected ?the? argument ?that ?the self-care? provision ?helps ?single? parents ?retain their jobs when they become ill.? ?According to the Court, even if true that concern does not address a constitutional violation within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment.? ?The Court was unimpressed with the fact that most single parents are women: ???Although disparate impact may be relevant evidence of . . . discrimination . . . such evidence alone is insufficient [to prove a constitutional violation] even where the Fourteenth Amendment subjects state action to strict scrutiny.??? ?The Court concluded: As a consequence of our constitutional design, money damages are the exception when sovereigns are defendants. Citations? omitted.? Subjecting States to suits for damages pursuant to ?5 requires more than a theory for why abrogating the States? immunity aids in, or advances, a stated congressional purpose. To abrogate the States? immunity from suits for damages under ?5, Congress must identify a pattern of constitutional violations and tailor a remedy congruent and proportional to the documented violations. It failed to do so when it allowed employees to sue States for violations of the FMLA?s self-care provision.
Justice ?Thomas ?joined ?the ?plurality? and concurred in the result, but reiterated his view that? Hibbs? was? wrongly decided.??? According? to Justice Thomas even the family-care provision of the FMLA is not sufficiently linked to a pattern of unconstitutional discrimination. Justice Scalia did not join the plurality and concurred in judgment. ?But he would abrogate the ?congruence and proportionality? test. ?According to Justice Scalia, Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment? ?is? ?limited?? to? ?conduct? ?that? ?itself violates the Fourteenth Amendment. Justice Ginsburg, joined by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan dissented.? They rejected the premise of the Court?s state sovereign immunity jurisprudence.? ?Even assuming the premise, the dissent would have held that Congress validly abrogated ?sovereign ?immunity? through ?the ?self- care provisions of the? FMLA because they also redress gender discrimination.
The dissent concluded that the purpose of the FMLA as a whole was to redress gender discrimination. ?One of the primary reasons for the self-care leave provisions of the FMLA was to allow pregnancy leave.?? The dissent would have overruled prior Court precedent to hold that pregnancy discrimination is per se sex discrimination. The dissent noted that the plurality?s holding does not authorize States to violate the FMLA.?? It just denies monetary relief.?? ?Plaintiffs can seek injunctive relief for such violations.
Coleman v. Court of Appeals of Maryland, 132 S. Ct. 1327 (3/20/12)