Supreme Court Rules FMLA Applies to State Employees

In a resounding victory for millions of working families across the country, the Supreme Court yesterday ruled to extend provisions of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)-which guarantee employees 12 weeks of unpaid leave for family or medical problems-to state government workers. Despite a series of conservative 5-4 Supreme Court decisions in recent years dramatically curtailing the federal government’s ability to protect state employees from discrimination on the basis of religion and disability, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist issued the majority opinion in Nevada Department of Human Resources v. Hibbs, writing, “by creating an across-the-board, routine employment benefit for all eligible employees, Congress sought to ensure that family leave would no longer be stigmatized as an inordinate drain on the workplace caused by female employees and that employers could not evade leave obligations by simply hiring men.” Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas issued dissenting opinions.

National Partnership for Women & Families (NPWF) President Judith L. Lichtman hailed the high court’s decision, stating, “Today’s ruling is a victory for the nearly five million state workers who deserve the same right to family and medical leave as other employees… The FMLA eliminates the discrimination and stereotypes that say only women can be caregivers and only men can be breadwinners and FMLA moves us toward a time when both men and women can take care of their families without losing their jobs,” according to a NPWF press release.

Last February, Senators Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA) introduced the Family Leave Expansion Act, that would extend FMLA to employers having at least 25 employees and also allow leave for domestic violence issues.

The Feminist Majority Foundation joins the NPWF in its call for paid family leave benefits. Although the FMLA has assisted over 35 million Americans in protecting their jobs, still too many women and men cannot afford to take the time off. The United States remains one of few developed nations that does not offer some form of paid parental leave. Approximately 127 countries offer compensation to parents, while many others have passed similar laws to compensate workers who need time off because of family emergencies.


NY Times 5/27/03, 5/28/03; Legal Times 5/28/03; Washington Post 5/28/03; NPWF 5/27/03; Supreme Court slip opinion; Feminist Daily News Wire

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