Court rules: Texas state employees can’t sue over ‘self-care’ under the FMLA

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

A federal court has concluded that Texas state employees who take FMLA leave for their own serious health conditions can’t later sue their state agency over that leave.

That’s because Texas has sovereign immunity from such claims.

Recent case: For a dozen years, Honglinh worked as a pharmacy tech on the day shift for Harris Health Systems, a state agency. She then asked for and received permission to take FMLA leave because of her own serious health condition. When she returned to work, she learned she had been reassigned to the Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital on a shift that began at 2 p.m. and ended at 10 p.m.

Honglinh claimed the shift change caused her much trouble and sued, alleging her employer had interfered with her right to reinstatement to the same or an equivalent position.

The health system argued she couldn’t sue because Texas hadn’t waived its rights not to be sued. The court agreed and dismissed the case, citing both U.S. Supreme Court and Texas Supreme Court decisions saying the same. While she was entitled to leave (which she received), she had no right to sue. (Huynh v. Harris Health Systems, No. 4:12-CV-3730, SD TX, 2014)

Final note: Honglinh lost her case even though the Texas Legislature had passed a law that says state employees are entitled to FMLA leave. Because the Legislature didn’t expressly state that employees have the right to sue if their agency denies self-care leave or otherwise violates the law, she was prohibited from suing.

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