Eleventh Amendment as a Bar to Federal Lawsuits Against State Employers
Employment discrimination lawsuits are on a rise. Typically, individuals bring discrimination lawsuits under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §12112 et seq., the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. §623 et seq., or Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. §2000e et. Seq.
The ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. It ensures equal opportunity in employment for disabled persons. The statute specifically provides that: No covered entity shall discriminate against a qualified individual on the basis of disability in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. ADA, 42 U.S.C. §12112(a). The ADEA prohibits discrimination against individuals who are at least 40-years of age. The statute specifically provides that:
It shall be unlawful for an employer (1) to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s age; (2) to limit, segregate, or classify his employees in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual’s age; or (3) to reduce the wage rate of any employee in order to comply with this chapter.
ADEA, 29 U.S.C §623(a). Title VII varies from the ADA and ADEA in that covers a wide range of discrimination. Title VII prohibits discrimination against people on the basis of race, gender, color, religion or national origin. The statute specifically provides that:
It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer (1) to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; or (2) to limit, segregate, or classify his employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
Title VII, 42 U.S.C. §2000e-2(a). The language of each of these statutes provides for a wide range of protection against employment discrimination. However, the more intriguing question is how these statutes protect individuals who work for a State employer?
The Eleventh Amendment can be a problem for individuals working for a state employer. The Eleventh amendment provides State Sovereign Immunity and typically bars Federal Court jurisdiction over cases involving a State employer and the ADA, ADEA and Title VII. The Eleventh Amendment provides:
“The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.”
U.S. Const. amend. XI. Even reading the Eleventh Amendment as it is, there are exceptions to State Sovereign Immunity, including: (1) “the States may waive their immunity and consent to be sued,” Nelson v. Cmmw. of Pa. Dep’t. of Pub. Welfare, 244 F. Supp. 2d 382, 387 (M.D. Pa. 2002); see also John H. Alden v. Maine, 527 U.S. 706, 755 (1999), and (2) “Congress may abrogate the States’ immunity so long as it ‘both unequivocally intends to do so and acts pursuant to a valid grant of constitutional authority.’” Nelson at 387 (citing Bd. of Trs. of Univ. of Alabama v. Garrett, 531 U.S. 356, 363, 121 S.Ct. 955, 148 L.Ed.2d 866 (2001).
Therefore, to bring an employment discrimination lawsuit into Federal Court, an employee must demonstrate that the State has either: (1) waived their immunity and consented to suit or (2) Congress abrogated that State’s immunity. In Pennsylvania, it is hard to prove a State employer falls into one of these exceptions for purposes of filing in Federal Court. However, if filing an employment discrimination lawsuit in Pennsylvania, it is important to note that although the State has sovereign immunity against Federal lawsuits, it does not enjoy sovereign immunity for suits initiated in State Courts under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”), 43 P.S. §955.
The PHRA specifically provides that:
It shall be an unlawful discriminatory practice [. . .] for any employer because of the race, color, religious creed, ancestry, age, sex, national origin or non-job related handicap or disability or the use of a guide or support animal because of the blindness, deafness or physical handicap of any individual or independent contractor, to refuse to hire or employ or contract with, or to bar or to discharge from employment such individual or independent contractor, or to otherwise discriminate against such individual or independent contractor with respect to compensation, hire, tenure, terms, conditions or privileges of employment or contract, if the individual or independent contractor is the best able and most competent to perform the services required[.]
43 P.S. §955. The PHRA encompasses a wide range of discrimination, such as age discrimination, disability discrimination and race discrimination. Therefore, while an individual may be foreclosed the opportunity to bring suit against a State employer in Federal Court, they are not foreclosed the chance to bring suit in State Court.