State Employee Rights Protected by Measure Passed by Assembly

May 16, 2008

Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (D/WF- Tompkins/Cortland) announced that the Assembly has passed a bill she introduced 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).

This bill was passed with a package of other bills in recognition of Disabilities Awareness Day. If signed by the Governor, it would bring New York in line with three other states, Minnesota, Illinois and North Carolina, which have already passed laws to rectify this unjust situation.

“This bill will give state employees recourse if violations of federal statutes are committed by the State of New York,” said Lifton. “Waiving the State’s sovereign immunity gives state employees the same rights private employees enjoy if violations are committed by their private employers.”

Lifton’s bill allows state employees to sue New York State for damages due to violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) and the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA).

“As it stands right now, employees of New York State cannot sue their employer for violations of the ADA, ADEA, and FLSA,” Lifton said. “This is an injustice that should be ended, and state employees should be granted the same rights as their public sector counterparts.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in separate cases that Congress exceeded its power to authorize lawsuits by residents against their own states. These judgments leave it up to the states to decide if they want to waive immunity from lawsuits for violations under the ADA, ADEA and FLSA. If a state does not waive its immunity, protections for state employees under these federal acts are taken away, while privately employed workers are allowed to bring action against their employers if violations of these acts are committed, creating a disparity. Lifton’s bill would give state employees the rights granted by the ADA, ADEA, FLSA and FMLA.

“Just because someone is an employee of the state, does not mean that they are reduced to second class status,” said Lifton. “If someone has been treated unfairly because of a disability, their age, or because they had to take time for a medical or family emergency, they should have every right to sue the party who has wronged them, even if the party is the State of New York.”

Last year, Lifton secured a senate sponsor, Senator George Maziarz.