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PJC Brief Argues State Does Not Have Sovereign Immunity Against Discrimination Cases

On June 16, 2005, the PJC filed an amici curiae brief with the Court of Appeals of Maryland in the case of Anne Arundel County Board of Education v. Norville.  The Court of Special Appeals held in this case that county boards of education in Maryland are considered “arms of the state,” and thus entitled to share in the sovereign immunity conferred on the states by the U.S. Constitution.  If this holding stands, then hundreds of thousands of public school teachers, administrative staff, and students will be limited in their ability to bring private suits for monetary damages for violations of federal laws such as the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans With Disabilities Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the Family Medical Leave Act, as well as section 1983 suits for constitutional violations.
The amici brief argued that, under the appropriate analysis, county boards of education in Maryland are not “arms of the state,” primarily because the local boards remain legally liable for any judgment against them.  Appellate courts considering this same issue in nineteen other states have reached the same conclusion; in only one state, California, are local boards of education considered arms of the state.  The amici brief also argued that, even assuming that the locals boards are entitled to constitutional sovereign immunity, any such immunity has been waived by Maryland statute for claims up to $100,000 or the limits of a local board’s insurance.
The brief was written by Murnaghan Appellate Advocacy Fellow Beth Mellen Harrison on behalf of the PJC, the ACLU of Maryland, the Metropolitan Washington Employment Lawyers Association, and the Maryland Disability Law Center.

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