A man who sued the state of Maryland after allegedly being fired for trying to take a 10-day medical leave from his state job will have his case heard Wednesday by the U.S. Supreme Court, and the outcome could affect whether state workers nationwide can sue in similar situations.
Daniel Coleman was fired from his job overseeing contracts for the Maryland court system in 2007. He says he was fired after asking for time off for doctor-ordered bed rest to deal with hypertension and diabetes. Under a law passed by Congress and enacted in 1993, the Family and Medical Leave Act, employees can take up to three months of unpaid leave for certain reasons, including a serious health issue. After being fired, Coleman sued, claiming a violation of the leave law and discrimination, a claim that was later thrown out by a lower court. He asked Maryland to pay him a reported $1.1 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
But lawyers for Maryland argue Congress was wrong to give employees like Coleman the ability to sue state employers for money damages. Unlike private employers, states are generally exempt from such lawsuits. Two lower courts have agreed with Maryland that Congress overstepped its authority, and 26 other states are also supporting the state's arguments.