Nevada Department of Human Resources v. Hibbs

PETITIONER: Nevada Department of Human Resources
RESPONDENT: Hibbs
LOCATION: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

DOCKET NO.: 01-1368
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 538 US 721 (2003)
DECIDED: May 27, 2003
ARGUED: Jan 15, 2003

ADVOCATES:
Cornelia T. L. Pillard - Argued the cause for the respondent Hibbs
Deputy Attorney General - for petitioners
Paul G. Taggart - Carson City, Nevada, argued the cause for the petitioners
Viet D. Dinh - Office of Legal Policy, Department of Justice, argued the cause for the respondent United States

Facts of the case

William Hibbs, an employee of the Nevada Department of Human Resources, sought leave to care for his wife under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA). The FMLA entitles an eligible employee to take up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave annually for the onset of a "serious health condition" in the employee's spouse. The Department granted Hibbs's request for the full 12 weeks of FMLA leave and, after he had exhausted that leave, informed him that he must report to work by a certain date. When Hibbs failed to do so, he was fired. Pursuant to FMLA provisions creating a private right of action "against any employer" that "interfered with, restrained, or denied the exercise of" FMLA rights, Hibbs sued in Federal District Court, seeking money damages for FMLA violations. The District Court concluded that the Eleventh Amendment barred the FMLA claim. The Court of Appeals reversed.

Question

May an individual sue a State for money damages in federal court for violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993?

Media for Nevada Department of Human Resources v. Hibbs

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 15, 2003 in Nevada Department of Human Resources v. Hibbs

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - May 27, 2003 in Nevada Department of Human Resources v. Hibbs

William H. Rehnquist:

I have the opinion of the Court to announce in No. 01-1368 the Nevada Department of Human Resources versus Hibbs.

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 or FMLA entitles an eligible employee to take up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave annually for the onset of a serious health condition in the employee's spouse.

The Act also creates a private right of action to seek damages against any employer that interferes with restrains or denies the exercise of these rights.

Respondent Hibbs was formerly employed by petitioner, the Nevada Department of Human Resources; it terminated him when he exhausted his FMLA leave and failed to return to work.

He has sued in federal District Court in the District of Nevada seeking damages for these violations of the Act.

The District Court awarded the Department summary judgment on the ground that the claim was barred by the Eleventh Amendment, but the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed.

We granted certiorari and in an opinion filed today with the Clerk of the Court, we affirm.

Congress may abrogate the States' Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit in Federal Court if it acts pursuant to a valid exercise of its power under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Congress would act within it Section 5 authority, we hold when it sought to abrogate the States' immunity for purposes of FMLA's family leave provision.

In the exercise of its Section 5 power of Congress may enact prophylactic legislation that prescribes facially constitutional conduct in order to prevent unconstitutional conduct.

Valid Section 5 legislation must exhibit congruence and proportionality between the injury to be prevented in the means adopted to that end.

The Act aims to protect the right to be free from gender-based discrimination in the workplace.

When it enacted the Act, Congress have before significant evidence of sex discrimination by the States with respect to the administration of leave benefit.

This evidence is sufficiently weighty to justify the enactment of the prophylactic Section 5 legislation, and the Act's family care provision is congruent and proportional to the targeted violation.

Justice Souter has filed a concurring opinion in which Justices Ginsburg and Breyer have joined; Justice Stevens has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment; Justice Scalia has filed a dissenting opinion; Justice Kennedy has also filed a dissenting opinion in which Justices Scalia and Thomas have joined.