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Court's ruling could hurt Florida's state workers on medical leave

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 allows workers to take a certain amount of unpaid leave from work to attend to family or personal health issues without fear of losing one's job.

It is an important protection, and employees who file FMLA claims may be entitled to receive money damages from their employer. That is, unless your employer happens to be the state of Florida, or any other state for that matter.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently delivered a ruling that could be a blow to any state employees who need to take FMLA leave to take care of their own medical needs (as opposed to members of their family).

The case before the Court involved an employee for the state of Maryland who was fired in 2007 for taking 10 days off under the FMLA to attend to personal health problems. He was fired from his job for taking time off.

Voting 5-4 along conservative-liberal lines, the Court said that states are granted sovereign immunity by the 11th Amendment, and therefore are protected against FMLA lawsuits that seek money damages.

There are approximately 5 million Americans who work as state employees, which means that this ruling could have far-reaching consequences. It is also fairly easy to see the dangerous precedent it could set for future employment lawsuits.

Criticizing the Court's ruling, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union said it could be especially harmful to women. He noted that, "Today's decision leaves women more vulnerable to sex discrimination and elevates states' rights over a woman's right to be free from unconstitutional sex discrimination, including pregnancy discrimination."

Source: Reuters, "Top court rejects state damages in medical leave case," James Vicini, Mar. 20, 2012

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