MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — The Vermont Supreme Court ruled Friday against a state Transportation Agency employee who argued she should have accrued paid vacation and sick time during her 2007 maternity leave.
Ursula Stanley won the support of the state Human Rights Commission and the Vermont State Employees Association, the union representing state workers. But she lost at both the trial court level and now before the state's highest court.
Stanley's lawyer and the Human Rights Commission argued that the Vermont Parental and Family Leave Act requires that an "employer shall continue employment benefits for the duration of (an employee's) leave."
But the justices upheld the finding of Judge Geoffrey W. Crawford of the Washington Superior Court's Civil Division that accrual of paid time off is part of a worker's pay, rather than his or her benefits, and workers are not paid when they're on leave. Crawford wrote that "paid leave is treated as pay; parental leave affords the employee no statutory right to be paid."
State law requires employers to offer workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to deal with a pregnancy and newborn or a sick family member.
Regarding the required continuation of employment benefits, the court agreed with the state that the benefits the Legislature had in mind were retirement pension accrual and health insurance coverage, but not accrual of paid time off.
Shortly after Stanley filed suit against the state, the VSEA issued a statement urging its members to contact the Human Rights Commission "If you have been denied accruals while out on parental or family leave."
Union spokesman Doug Gibson said Friday he did not know how many employees had stepped forward with complaints similar to Stanley's.
The union issued a statement from its general counsel, or chief lawyer, on Friday saying it was disappointed with the court's decision.
With the court's ruling "that annual and sick leave accruals are not 'employment benefits,' employees will now end up with less of these benefits simply because they have exercised their rights under the (law) to stay home to care for their children and sick family members," said the VSEA's Michael Casey. "This represents a real loss to all working Vermonters."
Calls to the office, cellular and home phones of Robert Appel, executive director of the Human Rights Commission, drew no immediate response on Friday.
There also was no immediate response to a message left for Megan Shafritz, the assistant attorney general who represented the state.
Stanley wrote in response to an email from The Associated Press that she did not want to comment until she had "a chance to digest the news, collect my thoughts and possibly talk with my lawyer."