In ruling on the case of William Hibbs, justices will
decide whether state workers can sue their state agencies
for giving them less than the 12 weeks unpaid leave granted
under the FMLA, according to an Associated Press report.
Underlying the FMLA issue is an even deeper legal question about whether states should have final say over benefits limits for state employees, even when the benefits are the subject of a federal law such as FMLA, the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ERISA.
The case is similar to one the court decided last year, in which state workers were forbidden to use a federal disability rights law to sue their employers for money damages for on-the-job discrimination.
In both cases, the states claimed they couldn’t be sued for using power granted to them under the US Constitution.
According to court documents, Hibbs was fired after his bosses said he stayed away from work for too long while caring for his ailing wife. Hibbs claims he still had time coming to him under the FMLA law, but the state disputes it.
Hibbs claimed that paid leave donated to him by fellow employees should not count against his 12-week allotment. The state said no.
A San Francisco federal appeals court ruled in Hibbs’ favor last year, finding that Congress had a valid interest in trying to correct gender discrimination that historically led to women having to shoulder more family-care duties than men.
Other federal appeals courts have ruled that state employees could not sue under the part of the law Hibbs cited, which covers family medical leave, or the part covering personal medical leave.
In a series of split 5-4 rulings over the past several years, the Supreme Court has tipped the federal-state balance of power toward the states.
The latest case is Nevada Department of Human Resources v. Hibbs, 01-1368.