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Supreme Court Watch

October 13, 1999 at 12:00 AM EDT


GWEN IFILL: The Supreme Court today heard arguments in three related age discrimination cases, from two states, all posing the same question: Do public employees have the right to sue state governments for violations of federal law? Thirty-six professors and librarians, a senior corrections officer in Florida, as well as two professors from Alabama, say yes.

The lead suit, brought by current and former employees of Florida State and Florida International Universities, argues that schools didn’t move quickly enough to close gaps in pay between older and younger workers. Senior professors and librarians earned less than younger faculty members hired more recently at higher, market-driven salaries. One of the plaintiffs in that suit, Daniel Kimel, a physics professor at Florida State University, has been teaching there since 1966.

DANIEL KIMEL: I am not a real expert on the law, but I am very, very hopeful after hearing this case that what will be found is the states will not be able to discriminate against people without some accountability through the law. My feeling about it is that something involved with something as sensitive as discrimination should be something that is reached on a national consensus, with a federal law, and to my feeling is that something like that should be dealt with with a federal law rather than state law.

GWEN IFILL: But lawyers for state employers said allowing such suits would violate states’ constitutional rights.

JEFFREY SUTTON, Lawyer for State Employers: The freedom you would be repealing in this instance is the whole notion that the federal government is one of limited and enumerated powers. The federal government – it’s worth noting — does not allow federal employees to bring state law claims under state law in state Court against the federal government. That seems to be the exact same position we have got here.

GWEN IFILL: The case will be decided before the Court’s current term ends next summer.