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The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that states cannot be sued under the Family and Medical Leave Act for refusing to give an employee time off to recover from an illness. One justice said the decision "dilutes the force" of the law that allows millions of working Americans time off to take care of sick family members or to have children.

The high court refused to let Daniel Coleman sue the Maryland state Court of Appeals for damages for firing him after he asked for sick leave, blaming Congress for not equating family care and self-care when lawmakers wrote the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the controlling opinion, said Congress did not investigate self-care the way it did family care when it passed the FMLA, leaving little "widespread evidence of sex discrimination or sex stereotyping in the administration of sick leave."

"Documented discrimination against women in the general workplace is a persistent unfortunate reality, and we must assume, a still prevalent wrong. An explicit purpose of the Congress in adopting the FMLA was to improve workplace conditions for women. But states may not be subject to suits for damages based on violations of a comprehensive statute unless Congress has identified a specific pattern of constitutional violations by state employers," said Kennedy, who was joined in his opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

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