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A supreme experience for Penn State Law students


 Photo of students in Civil Rights Appellate Clinic with Professor Michael Foreman
Civil Rights Appellate Clinic with client Daniel Coleman on front steps of the U.S. Supreme Court. Back row: Isaac Wakefield '11, Professor Foreman, Bobby Marion '12, Wesley Corning '12. Front row: Micah Craft '12, Shari Manasseh '12, Marianne Sawicki '12, Heather Bennett '13; Clinic Fellow Kim Hibbard '11; Crystal Travanti '11, and Daniel Coleman. 

After nearly a year of work preparing Daniel Coleman’s case to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, current and former Penn State Law students in the Civil Rights Appellate Clinic looked on as clinic director Professor Michael Foreman argued their client’s case before the high court yesterday.

“The opportunity to watch Professor Foreman put all of our hard work into play in front of the Supreme Court was incredible. The bench was asking very difficult questions, on top of the latent difficulties in the case. Despite that fact, Professor Foreman used all the accumulated work of the past year to put up an exceptional argument,” said third-year law student Wesley Corning. 

Coleman v. Maryland Court of Appeals asks whether Congress constitutionally abrogated the states’ Eleventh Amendment immunity when it passed the self-care leave provision of the Family and Medical Leave Act, which provides employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for medical reasons or other qualifying circumstances. The self-care provision states that an employee is eligible for leave "because of a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the functions of the position of such employee." Coleman says that he was wrongly fired for trying to take a 10-day medical leave to deal with hypertension and diabetes. He sued, claiming, among other charges, that a refusal to give him self-care leave violated the FMLA. 

“We were extremely pleased with how the argument went in that all of the Justices seemed to be really focused on the issues we believe went to the heart of the case,” Foreman said. “I am relieved,” he said about the argument being over. “You spend almost a year of your life petitioning the Court, writing briefs, and preparing for oral argument, then in 30 minutes you attempt to convince nine Justices that you have the right side of the argument. Then it’s over.”

As for waiting on the Court’s decision, “I have no control over what the Justices will decide. I have learned that the best way to deal with the uncertainty is to move on to the next matter the Clinic will be undertaking,” Foreman said.

“Mr. Coleman approached us, a bit teary, after the argument was over and, as he had predicted when we met him last spring, we walked the steps together,” said Corning.

“I am grateful to the students for taking up this case. It’s not really about me; it’s for the next generation,” said Coleman.

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