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Does the 11th amendment prevent you from suing public universities?
September 30, 2012 4:22 PM   Subscribe

Does the 11th amendment prevent you from suing public universities?

Let's say I wanted to sue a public university that fires me for discriminating against my 1) age, 2) race, 3) sex, or 4) disability. Does the 11th amendment make it impossible for me to win the lawsuit in all of these scenarios?
posted by instantfail to Law & Government (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Bakke seems relevant here.
posted by hoyland at 4:26 PM on September 30, 2012


The short version is "No, because we can easily see from trivial research that such lawsuits have been filed and proceeded successfully."

I googled "lawsuit public university discrimination" and the very first result was this lawsuit against Washington State University for racial discrimination, which settled for $650K.

I'll let actual lawyers dig into the whys and whatnots.
posted by Tomorrowful at 4:27 PM on September 30, 2012


IANAL. From what I can tell, the amendment applies to suing them in Federal court (as opposed to State courts) and there are plenty of exceptions -- for example, municipalities within a state may be sued in federal court. I believe an institution sponsored by the state (as in universities) could not invoke the amendment. After all, the institution is it's own entity -- the lawsuit would not be against the State, but against "University of [State] of wherever."
posted by DoubleLune at 4:29 PM on September 30, 2012


Short answer, as noted, is "no"--the long answer is why lawyers first go to law schools. Cornell's Legal Information Institute has a pretty good primer on why people can and do sue public universities for discrimination.
posted by crush-onastick at 4:31 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


IAAL, IANYL.

The Cornell link is pretty good and should be accessible to educated laymen.

I've dealt with this firsthand only a few times in my practice, In my state, there is a statutory framework for filing suit against the state under a limited waiver of sovereign immunity. It is pretty complex and has a number of requirements for notice, service, and so on. Non-compliance can subject the suit to dismissal. There are also statutory damages caps.

At the federal level, there is the Federal Tort Claims Act, a limited waiver of sovereign immunity at the federal level.
posted by Tanizaki at 4:46 PM on September 30, 2012


The answer is clearly 'no,' but there is some academic and judicial disagreement as to the reasons why 'no' is the right answer. I would say that the best concise answer about the reason why the answer is 'no' is that Congress is empowered to legislate so as to take action against states in certain circumstances under the 13th through 15th Amendments, which modified the 11th Amendment and limited state sovereignty so as to make state governments vulnerable to suits based on civil rights violations.

Trust me, you don't want a less concise answer!
posted by Mr. Justice at 4:48 PM on September 30, 2012


This area of the law is very complicated, but the most basic story is this: the 11th Amendment prevents you from suing a state or state agency in federal court for money damages. The Eleventh Amendment has nothing to say about lawsuits in state court. It also does not prevent suits against state officials in federal court for injunctive relief to remedy violations of federal law or the constitution.
posted by Mid at 5:09 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is actually a pretty complicated legal question, and an area of law that has changed a LOT in the past 15 years and is very wrapped up with the current make up at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Today (subject to change), the answer is: You can sue a state entity in federal court for damages for race or sex discrimination. You cannot sue a state entity in federal court for damages for age or disability discrimination. You can sue a state entity in federal court for injunctive relief (e.g. reinstatement) for age or disability discrimination under a doctrine called ex parte Young.

Depending upon your state law, you may be able to sue a state entity in state court for damages for race, sex, age, or disability discrimination.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 6:08 PM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


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