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Bryant Whitten, LLP

U.S. Supreme Court hears FMLA case, will decide state worker damages issue

The U.S. Supreme Court recently heard a case involving medical leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. The Court will decide the remedy a state public worker is entitled to under the federal law if a state violates a part of the law.

The Family and Medical Leave Act applies to certain workers and provides up to three months of unpaid medical leave. The medical leave time can generally be used to care for a newborn or a sick family member or address an individual's own medicals issues. Certain employees in California are also given additional medical leave rights under state law.

In the case, a worker employed by the state of Maryland claims he was wrongly fired after he attempted to take a 10-day medical leave to manage hypertension and diabetes. The worker claimed he was entitled to $1.1 million in monetary damages under the FMLA but a lower court disagreed.

The state of Maryland and 26 other states hold the position that they must abide by the FMLA but do not have to grant monetary damages like private employers when a violation of the law occurs. Maryland and similar states argue the monetary damages would negatively impact the finances of the state. Instead, public workers should file suit to be reinstated to their former positions.

During arguments at the Supreme Court, the public worker's lawyer disagreed and argued that without the incentive of damages, states would not be pushed to follow the FMLA.

In 2003, the Supreme Court ruled that a state worker who was denied the right to take care of a family member could sue for monetary damages.

Source: The Associated Press, "Supreme Court wrestles with medical leave case," Jessica Gresko, Jan. 11, 2012

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