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Coleman v. Maryland Court of Appeals

On September 27, 2011, CAC, along with co-counsel Skadden, Arps, filed an amicus curiae brief in the Supreme Court supporting the petitioner, Daniel Coleman. At issue in this case is whether Congress has the authority under the Fourteenth Amendment to subject states to suit in federal court for violation of the self-care provision of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), abrogating the states’ Eleventh Amendment immunity.

Mr. Coleman, an African-American man, was employed by the Maryland Court of Appeals. In 2007, he sought FMLA leave to care for his own documented health condition; leave was denied. Coleman eventually filed suit, alleging, among other claims, that his FMLA leave was denied in retaliation for his earlier investigation of wrongdoing by office staff members. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld the district court’s dismissal of Coleman’s FMLA claim, ruling that Congress lacked the authority to abrogate the states’ Eleventh Amendment immunity with respect to the FMLA’s self-care provision. The Supreme Court has held that while Congress may not validly abrogate the states’ Eleventh Amendment immunity under its Article I powers, it can do so under its authority to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment. The court of appeals, however, concluded that the FMLA’s self-care provision was not “appropriate legislation” enforcing the guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment. On June 27, 2011, the Supreme Court granted Coleman’s petition for a writ of certiorari.

CAC’s brief argues that the lower courts improperly dismissed Coleman’s claim for two reasons. First, the language and purpose of Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment, which gives Congress the power to enact “appropriate legislation” enforcing the Amendment’s guarantees, readily establish that Congress possessed ample authority to enact the FMLA’s self-care provision as part of the Act’s efforts to root out gender discrimination in the workplace. Second, the expansive interpretation given to the Eleventh Amendment – by the lower courts in Coleman’s case and the Supreme Court in past cases – is inconsistent with the text and history of the Amendment. As the text of the Amendment confirms, the Constitution’s protection of state sovereign immunity is narrow in scope. The Eleventh Amendment confers immunity on each state from lawsuits in federal court brought by a citizen of another state, but does not prevent Congress from creating federal rights – such as those set forth in the FMLA – and giving individuals a right to sue for their violation. Nothing in the Eleventh Amendment supports stripping Coleman of his right to sue the state in which he resides for violating federal law.

On January 11, 2012, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Coleman.

On March 20, 2012, the Supreme Court issued a deeply splintered ruling striking down an important part of the Family and Medical Leave Act as beyond the powers of Congress under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment.  Read our press release blasting the decision here.