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June 27, 2001
Court to Rule on Employers' Leave and FMLA
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etime next year, the U.S. Supreme Court will clarify how maternity or other medical leave offered by employers counts against the 12-week leave guaranteed by the federal government.

The court agreed Monday to hear an appeal filed by an Arkansas shoe factory worker who had cancer and claimed that her employer wrongly refused to grant her a 12-week leave under the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act.

The employer, Wolverine Worldwide Inc., convinced lower courts that it had already given the employee, Tracy Ragsdale, a more generous leave package than the law required, according to the Associated Press.

Ragsdale claims she should not have been forced to exhaust her other leave before qualifying for the government's 12 weeks.

In taking on the case, the Supreme Court will be judging the validity of Labor Department regulations concerning the relationship between employer-granted leave and the guaranteed leave.

The regulations say that unless the employer acts up front to say that its own company-granted leave satisfies the federal guarantee, the 12-week period does not begin.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals deemed the regulation invalid on grounds that it went beyond the scope of FMLA.

Lawyers for Wolverine called the Labor Department regulations punitive and unfair to employers, and urged the Supreme Court to leave the lower appeals court ruling in place.

"The fact that Ragsdale took seven months of leave, and then brought suit under the (Family and Medical Leave Act) when Wolverine would not give her 12 additional weeks of leave, takes the provision of the statute that claims not to discourage employers from granting generous benefits and stands them on their head," Wolverine argued.

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The Justice Department filed a friend-of-the-court brief defending the regulations. It contended that while employer-granted leave may count against the Family and Medical Leave Act, employers and workers must be clear about that.

"Those requirements impose no onerous burden on the employer," the government said.

The Justice Department went on to say that while the issue is important, Ragsdale's case is not the right case to decide it.

Ragsdale, whose cancer is now in remission, had worked at Wolverine less than a year when she was diagnosed in 1996. She requested and was given an initial leave, plus several extensions, the AP reports.

To view the Associated Press story, click here.
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