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Congress Not Immune From Discrimination Suits August 19, 2006

Posted by C.A.R.D in Card, Citizens Against Racism and Discrimination, Congress, Discrimination, Supreme Court.

A federal appeals court on Friday rejected a motion to dismiss a job discrimination suit against Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., ruling that members of Congress are not automatically immune from such suits under the Constitution.But in a mixed decision that could lay the groundwork for a review by the U.S. Supreme Court, the judges found that Dayton could still assert immunity under the “speech or debate” clause by formally asserting that a staffer’s dismissal was based on the performance of protected legislative duties.

The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit was closely watched on Capitol Hill because of the separation of powers and immunity issues it raises for all members of Congress in discrimination and civil rights suits.

For that reason, Dayton’s case was joined with a race and gender discrimination suit brought against Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas.

Brad Hanson, Dayton’s former state office manager, sued Dayton in May 2003, claiming he was fired after disclosing that he had a heart condition.

Dayton said Hanson was dismissed for poor job performance.

Hanson’s lawyers based his suit largely on the 1995 Congressional Accountability Act, which for the first time extended many common worker protections to congressional employees.

Senate lawyers have been trying to dismiss the lawsuit on the basis of the Constitution’s speech or debate clause, which protects lawmakers from legal actions arising from their official duties.

A district court judge in Washington ruled against Dayton in 2004.

The appeal, which was heard by all the active judges on the circuit – an unusual legal step – produced a mixed ruling that seems to favor Dayton’s defense team, which characterized Hanson’s dismissal as a legislative act protected by the Constitution.

But rather than dismissing the suit outright, the circuit court ruled that immunity “operates as an evidentiary protection for members of Congress,” suggesting that Dayton could shield himself from further court scrutiny by testifying directly – likely in a sworn affidavit – that Hanson was fired over the performance of his legislative duties.

Jean Manning, the Senate’s chief counsel for employment, said the decision was a victory for Dayton.

Neither Hanson nor his D.C.-based attorney, Richard Salzman, could be reached for comment. This story was copied from https://card.wordpress.com
Jack Danielson, Dayton’s chief of staff, said Dayton was traveling in northern Minnesota Friday and had not seen the ruling.

Source: Mercury News

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