Discrimination suit takes U to Supreme Court

Shira Kantor

The U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to hear an age discrimination lawsuit involving the University and two former employees, marking the first time the institution has been summoned to the highest court in the nation.

The court is considering the case to look at the larger issue of the constitutionality of a provision applying to state claims under federal court.

Lance Raygor and James Goodchild, former University Media Resources senior broadcast technicians, originally filed both federal and state claims against the University when they were urged to retire because of a tightened budget in November 1994.

The pair said they were harassed by managers and ultimately demoted and forced to take a major pay cut when they refused to accept retirement packages. Both men were in their early 50s and had worked for the University for nearly 27 years.

“(Media resources managers) knew that they would get in trouble if they tried to lay us off because we were union, so they came up with this idea of demoting us,” Raygor said. “All of a sudden, after all these years, we’re not capable of doing our job.”

Minneapolis attorney Howard Bolter took on both Raygor’s and Goodchild’s cases, combining them into a single claim.

The lawsuit first landed in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis in 1996, where both federal and state claims were dismissed after the University argued that as a state institution, the 11th Amendment granted it immunity from federal suits.

Bolter appealed to Hennepin County District Court within the 30-day window he was given under federal jurisdiction but was denied when University counsel argued the statute of limitations had run out. He then went to the Minnesota Court of Appeals which overturned the decision, arguing the 30-day time limit to refile a state claim is waived under conditions of supplemental tolling, the legal process for tacking state claims onto federal claims.

Not willing to give up, the University declared the tolling provision unconstitutional and appealed the ruling to the Minnesota Supreme Court, where once again the institution came out on top, with the support of the 11th Amendment.

“That’s what triggered our request that the United States Supreme Court look at it,” Bolter said.

University attorneys could not be reached for comment.

Bolter said the U.S. Supreme Court will look at whether the
suspension of the 30-day time limit to file a new state claim under the supplemental tolling provision is constitutional.

“This is really a precedent-setting case,” Raygor said. “This is not only going to affect the University, it’s going to affect every state in the Union.”

Bolter said the court date has not yet been set, but he expects the case to be heard sometime between October and January.

For now, Raygor is trying his best to relax; he now collects disability for stress-related illnesses, which, he said, were brought on by the process.

“The stress is unbelievable,” Raygor said. “Terrible. Just terrible.”

 

Shira Kantor welcomes comments at [email protected]