On September 27, 2011, NELA and ten other organizations joined an amicus brief, written by the National Partnership For Women & Families, in the U.S. Supreme Court case of Coleman v. Maryland Court of Appeals (Case No. 10-1016). The question presented in Coleman is “whether Congress constitutionally abrogated states’ Eleventh Amendment immunity when it passed the self-care leave provision of the Family and Medical Leave Act.” The petitioner, Daniel Coleman, was an employee of the Maryland state court system until his termination after requesting leave due to a serious medical condition. The Fourth Circuit dismissed his FMLA claim, concluding that the state of Maryland was immune from suit, because Congress did not validly abrogate states’ Eleventh Amendment immunity with respect to the FMLA’s self-care provision.
The amicus brief argues that Congress validly abrogated state sovereign immunity for self-care claims in response to unconstitutional sex discrimination. In particular, we highlight the Congress’ intent in adopting the FMLA self-care provision to address discrimination against women of child-bearing age by providing leave for pregnancy-related disability and recovery from childbirth. The brief also explains that the FMLA ultimately provided self-care leave on a gender-neutral basis to avoid establishing special rights to leave for women, which could create perverse incentives for employers to discriminate against women.