3:06 PM Eastern - Thursday, January 19, 2012

All Workers Deserve Justice and Protection #default

The freedom for employees to work in a safe and healthy environment has always been an essential right for workers in our country - but one we've had to fight to protect. Working families deserve employers who respect their safety and well-being. This is especially true for our public service workers who go to work every day to serve others and help build and protect our communities. Unfortunately, this freedom is being denied to many of these workers.

This week the United States Supreme Court is hearing arguments in the case Coleman v. Maryland Court of Appeals, which will go a long way in determining the rights of public workers to care for their health. The Court's decision could have a profound impact on millions of public employees.

In 1993, Congress passed the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), providing employees with job-protected unpaid leave to take care of their own health and the health of their families. It granted up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off to recover from illness and it became especially important for working women during pregnancy and childbirth. The outcome of the case will determine whether state employees have the right to take leave for their own serious medical needs, including pregnancy and childbirth, under the self-care provision of the FMLA, and whether states can be held accountable for violating the law, as was the case with Mr. Coleman. Daniel Coleman, the plaintiff in the case, was prescribed two weeks of bed rest by his doctor while he was recovering from a serious medical condition. He requested time off of his job with a Maryland court under the FMLA. Within hours of his request Mr. Coleman received notice of his firing. In the following months, he struggled on unemployment to provide for his family and two college-age sons and exhausted his 401k. Coleman's struggle was not unlike the one that so many families have faced in this economy, except that his condition was supposed to be covered under Federal law. With nowhere else to turn, Daniel Coleman filed a grievance in court.

Lower courts in Maryland have unfortunately not ruled in Mr. Coleman's favor, stating that he does not have a right to sue for his claims. It is essential that the Supreme Court decide that the FMLA's self-care provisions extend to state workers, so that public service workers all over the country can have protection on the job.

Since the FMLA became law 20 years ago, it has been essential to protecting workers. Since it passed into law, the FMLA has been used more than 100 million times, allowing workers to take leave to care for their own serious illnesses, and for their families, without sacrificing their jobs and long-term economic stability. It is essential that this law continue to protect America's working families and a ruling for Mr. Coleman will be a victory for all workers.

Let's hope that the Supreme Court takes the side of all working families and holds the State of Maryland and all employers who break this law accountable.

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