By way of some background, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) entitles an employee to take up to 12 work weeks of unpaid leave per year for (A) the care of a newborn son or daughter; (B) the adoption or foster-care placement of a child; (C) the care of a spouse, son, daughter, or parent with a serious medical condition; and (D) the employee's own serious health condition when the condition interferes with the employee's ability to perform at work. 29 U. S. C. §2612(a)(1). The FMLA also creates a private right of action for equitable relief and damages “against any employer (including a public agency) in any Federal or State court.” §2617(a)(2). Here, subparagraphs (A), (B), and (C) are referred to as the family-care provisions, and subparagraph (D) as the self-care provision.
In Nevada Dept. of Human Resources v. Hibbs, 538 U.S. 721, 730−732, the Supreme Court held that Congress could subject States to suit for violations of subparagraph (C) based on evidence of family-leave policies that discriminated on the basis of sex.
In this case, the employee filed suit, alleging that his employer, the Maryland Court of Appeals, an instrumentality of the State, violated the subparagraph (D) of the FMLA, by denying him self-care leave.
The District Court dismissed the suit on sovereign immunity grounds. The Fourth Circuit affirmed, holding that unlike the family-care provision in Hibbs, the self-care provision was not directed at an identified pattern of gender-based discrimination and was not congruent and proportional to any pattern of sex-based discrimination on the part of States.
Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion for a divided court (dissent by Justice Ginsberg and Breyer, joined in part by Justices Kagan and Sotomayor). The Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal, with four justices holding that suits against states under the self-care provision are barred by sovereign immunity, where the sex-based discrimination that supports allowing section 2612(a)(1)(C) suits against states—for denying leave for the care of a spouse, son, daughter, or parent with a serious medical condition—is absent with respect to the self-care provision.
The opinion can be found at: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/11pdf/10-1016.pdf