Supreme Court Expands Scope of FMLA for State Employees

Volume 2, Issue 6
June 2, 2003

In Nevada Department of Human Resources v. Hibbs, No. 01-1368, the United States Supreme Court awarded a big win to state employees when it held that they can sue for money damages in federal court for a state's failure to comply with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

The case involved an employee of the Nevada Department of Human Resources, Mr. Hibbs, who sought leave to care for his ailing wife. The State initially granted Mr. Hibbs 12 weeks of leave, but later concluded that he had exhausted all available leave, and required his return by a certain date. When Mr. Hibbs did not return, he was terminated. Mr. Hibbs then sued the State for violating his leave rights under the FMLA. The State argued that it was immune from suit in federal court pursuant to the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution. However, the Supreme Court held that the State's Eleventh Amendment rights were clearly abrogated by Congress based on the unmistakably clear language of the FMLA. Thus, it is now clearly established that states are subject to federal lawsuits for violations of the FMLA.

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