Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Congressional Accountability In Discrimination Suit

Yesterday, in the case of Office of Dayton v. Hanson (06-618), the U.S. Supreme Court declined unanimously to rule on a case involving an employment discrimination lawsuit against the office of former Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn. The case tests the limits of workplace protections for congressional staffers.

The plaintiff was the office manager for Senator Dayton and claims that his employment was terminated after he advised that he needed an operation to correct a heart condition. The suit was brought under the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 (the “Act”) which applies several existing employment, civil rights, health, and safety-related statutes and regulations to the legislative branch including the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act; the suit alleges violations of those statutes. Prior to the Act, Congress was generally exempt from the strictures of Federal employment laws.

The District Court denied a motion to dismiss based on a claim of immunity under the Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause, and the D. C. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court held that it lacked jurisdiction to consider the matter because the Act limited its review to lower court rulings concerning the Act’s constitutionality and nothing more. According to the Court, neither of the actions by the lower courts could be characterized as ruling on the Act’s constitutionality and, therefore, jurisdiction was lacking. The matter will now proceed toward trial in the District Court.

While the merits of the suit remain to be determined, it’s just great when the cloaks of immunity and secrecy are lifted from public officials, thus requiring them to account for their actions on the same terms and conditions as the rest of us.

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