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Supreme Court hears arguments on state immunity, disability compensation

The US Supreme Court [official website] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF] in two cases Wednesday. In Coleman v. Maryland Court of Appeals [transcript, PDF; JURIST report] the court will determine whether Congress constitutionally abrogated states' Eleventh Amendment [text] immunity when it passed the self-care leave provision of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) [DOL backgrounder]. Petitioner Daniel Coleman was terminated from his job at the Maryland Court of Appeals and filed suit under Title VII and FMLA seeking money damages. The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed [opinion, PDF] a lower court ruling that dismissed petitioner's FMLA clams as barred by Eleventh Amendment immunity. Counsel for the petitioner argued that Congress passed the self-care leave provision in an effort to protect women from employment discrimination by giving all employees, men included, equal right to leave. The state asserted that the self-care leave provision's purposes are not sufficiently in line with the Equal Protection Clause to overcome states' sovereign immunity.

In Roberts v. Sea-Land Services [transcript, PDF; JURIST report] the court will clarify when the period for compensation is under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act [text], which goes into effect after a worker is disabled on the job. The calculation for compensation is based on several factors, including the national average wage. Dana Roberts was disabled for a period between 2002 and 2005, but her claim was not adjudicated until 2007. Roberts argues that the national average wage when her claim was first adjudicated and decided in 2007 should be used, as opposed to the national average wage from 2002 when she was injured. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF] that Roberts misinterpreted the phrase "those newly awarded compensation during such period" and held that her compensation should be calculated based on the 2002 national average. The oral arguments focus on the ambiguity of the word "award," which counsel for the petitioner maintains is the compensation resulting from an administrative compensation order. The state argued that it would not make sense to compensate an employee who has not received an administrative order differently that one who has.

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