This case raises the legal issue of whether states are immune under the Eleventh Amendment from suits by individuals for monetary damages under the "family leave" provisions of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which allow employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a sick family member. The district court in this case granted the university's motion for summary judgment, ruling that state employers are immune from FMLA suits. The Ninth Circuit reversed, ruling that Hibbs can sue the state for allegedly denying him leave to care for his sick wife. 273 F.3d 844 (9th Cir. 2001). The court ruled that Congress acted within its power under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment to enforce the Equal Protection Clause, and remanded the case for further proceedings. In so doing, it found that "the FMLA should be treated differently from both the ADA and ADEA because the FMLA is aimed at remedying gender discrimination, which is subject to heightened scrutiny." On June 24, 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear this case. In October 2002 the AAUP joined a brief submitted by the National Women's Law Center and written by O'Melveny & Myers, which argues that Congress validly exercised its authority in enacting the FMLA because "the FMLA remedies gender discrimination by working to eradicate the stereotypes that are both a cause and a result" of unconstitutional gender discrimination. The brief further asserts that Congress' authority extends to abrogate state sovereign immunity from damages, and that while monetary damages under the FMLA are "limited," they remain "absolutely cruciall to the statute's effective enforcement." AAUP participated in this case because the Association is deeply concerned that allowing public entities, such as state universities, to be immune from the FMLA will impair the ability of professors and other academic professionals to protect themselves from gender discrimination in the workplace based on family responsibilities. Statement of Principles on Family Responsibilities and Academic Work (2001). The amicus brief is available at http://www.nwlc.org/pdf/FMLAHibbsAmicusBriefOct2002.pdf. Oral argument before the Supreme Court was heard January 15, 2003.
Status: On May 27, 2003 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision that states are not immune under the Eleventh Amendment from suits by individuals for monetary damages under the "family leave" provisions of the FMLA, which allow employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a sick family member. The Court found that Congress had evidence of "a pattern of constitutional violations" by the states in the "participation in, and fostering of, gender-based discrimination in the administration of leave benefits." Accordingly, the Court found that Congress had the authority to enact this law, which it found to be "narrowly targeted at the fault line between work and family." The decision is available at http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/02pdf/01-1368.pdf in .pdf format.