Lifton Introduces Legislation Which Protects the Rights of State Employees

May 2, 2007

Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (D/WFP-Tompkins/Cortland) has introduced legislation to restore the rights of state employees to sue the State of New York for damages due to violations of certain civil rights and labor laws (A.7653). Three states – Minnesota, Illinois and North Carolina – have already acted to rectify this unjust situation.

“Protecting the rights of all state employees is a must,” Lifton said. “This bill will deter the state from treating employees unfairly and it will ensure that state employees have recourse if violations of federal statutes are committed by the State of New York.”

Lifton’s bill waives the State’s sovereign immunity and allows state employees to sue New York State for damages due to violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 and the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993. This bill ensures that state employees have the same protection as private sector employees under all of these federal laws.

“Private businesses are subject to those laws – an individual can sue their employer for discrimination. But right now in most states employees can’t sue their employer for these violations if their employer is the state,” Lifton said. “This is a contradiction and an injustice that should not continue.”

Over the last nine years, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in separate cases that Congress exceeded its power to authorize lawsuits by residents against their own states – thereby leaving it up to the states to decide if they want to waive their immunity from lawsuits for violations under the ADA, ADEA and FLSA. If a state chooses not to waive its immunity, protection for state employees under the ADA, ADEA and FLSA is taken away, while privately employed workers are allowed to bring an action against their employer if violations of these acts are committed, creating a disparity. Lifton’s bill will resolve this disparity among New York employees.

“Unfair treatment in the workplace is unacceptable,” Lifton said. “This legislation allows state employees who have been treated unfairly because of a disability, their age, or because they had to take time for a medical or family emergency, will have the opportunity to make their case in court.”