Friday, December 6, 2019

District Court Rules State Transportation Authority Immune from Federal Whistleblower Claim

Judge Randolph D. Moss (D.D.C.) ruled this week that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority enjoyed Eleventh Amendment immunity from a former employee's suit under the National Transit Systems Security Act. In so ruling, Judge Moss held that the NTSSA wasn't included in the state-sovereign-immunity-waiver provision in the Civil Rights Remedies Equalization Act. The ruling dismisses the case.

The case arose when a former WMATA employee sued the Authority for violating the NTSSA. That Act, a whistleblower-protection act, prohibits public transportation agencies from "discharg[ing]" or otherwise "discriminat[ing] against an employee" based "in whole or in part" on the employee's "lawful, good faith" provision of information relating to conduct that "the employee reasonably believes constitutes a violation of any Federal law, rule, or regulation relating to public safety or security" to "a person with supervisory authority over the employee."

WMATA, a creature of a compact between Maryland, Virginia, and D.C., moved to dismiss on state sovereign immunity grounds.

The plaintiff countered that WMATA waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity under the Civil Rights Remedies Equalization Act. The CRREA provides that

[a] State shall not be immune under the Eleventh Amendment . . . from suit in Federal court for a violation of section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, or the provisions of any other Federal statute prohibiting discrimination by recipients of Federal financial assistance.

The plaintiff argued that the NTSSA fell within the catch-all provision, because it specifically prohibits discrimination. He claimed that WMATA therefore waived immunity under the CRREA.

The court rejected this argument. The court acknowledged that the NTSSA banned "discrimination," but said that the discrimination outlawed in the NTSSA was not the same type of discrimination covered in CRREA, and that it therefore didn't fall within the CRREA's catch-all:

Each of the enumerated statutes [in the CRREA] prohibits class-based discrimination--that is, discrimination based on a personal characteristic, such as race, national origin, age, sex, or disability. Each is fairly described as a civil rights statute--the presumptive target of the Civil Rights Remedies Equalization Act. And each ensures that the benefits of federally funded programs are equally available to all, regardless of their race, national origin, sex, or disability. The NTSSA, in contrast, is a public safety statute, designed to ensure that employees of public transportation agencies and their contractors and subcontractors are not dissuaded from flagging potential violations of federal safety or security rules . . . . Although the NTSSA uses the word "discriminate," it does so in [a] very different manner than the CRREA and the enumerated statutes.

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/conlaw/2019/12/district-court-rules-state-transportation-authority-immune-from-federal-whistleblower-claim.html

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