U to argue first Supreme Court case

Liz Kohman

The University will argue before the U.S. Supreme Court on Nov. 26, marking the institution’s first appearance before the nation’s highest court.

Lance Raygor and Jim Goodchild’s case against the University began in 1995 with an age discrimination complaint, but over the past six years it has evolved into a broader issue of state versus federal power.

“We thought this would be settled long before this,” Goodchild said.

Although the original case is based on age discrimination, the Supreme Court will examine an issue that arose during the judicial process: whether the federal courts have jurisdiction over state law claims.

The men’s complaint began in 1995 when Raygor and Goodchild filed separate age discrimination claims. The two men, who were both 52 years old at the time, worked as senior broadcast technicians in University Media Resources. Raygor had worked for the University 31 years and Goodchild for 28 years, and both were the oldest employees in their department.

“On the whole, there were a lot of good things,” said Raygor of working at the University.

They said their jobs included operating and maintaining television equipment and assisting with the production of educational television programs.

In December 1994 supervisors asked the men to retire early. When they refused to leave their positions, they were harassed by managers, demoted and forced to take a pay cut, Raygor and Goodchild said.

The men filed separate actions, which were later combined, in both federal and state courts.

The University, a state institution, argued it is immune to suits in federal courts under the 11th Amendment. According to the amendment, citizens cannot bring suit against a state in federal court.

“The federal court had no
jurisdiction in this case,” University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg said.

The federal court ruled in favor of the University and dismissed the claim in 1997.

Howard Bolter, Raygor and Goodchild’s attorney, attempted to have the case heard in the state courts and appealed at the federal level, but the University argued the men filed the claims after the state’s statute of limitations had expired.

A state court agreed with the University and dismissed Raygor and Goodchild’s claims.

The case was then brought before the Minnesota Court of Appeals, which ruled in favor of Raygor and Goodchild in 2000.

The University appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court, which ruled in the University’s favor in 2001.

Bolter appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the court agreed to hear arguments for the case last spring.

“I feel good that they granted review,” Bolter said. “I’m hopeful. We have a good argument and a compelling argument.”

Rotenberg said one of the key points in the case is the number of times the University is forced to defend itself. He said the men had numerous outlets, both internal and external, to voice their complaint.

The University is more than willing to get to the bottom of the complaint, but it doesn’t want to go through needless litigation, Rotenberg said.

If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Raygor and Goodchild, the case will be reopened at the state level and the age discrimination issue will be reviewed.

Raygor and Goodchild said they are hoping they get to that point.

“A chance to tell our story is all we want,” Goodchild said.

“We haven’t had our day in court,” Raygor said.

If that happens, Rotenberg said he feels confident the University will win.

“If we got to that issue, I believe we would prevail,” said Rotenberg.

Meanwhile, both sides of the case are busy with preparations, honing final arguments and discussing strategies with colleagues.

“It’s a very, very awesome thing to think of,” Goodchild said of going before the Supreme Court.

Rotenberg practiced arguing the case before a panel of judges Nov. 6. Instead of getting a verdict, he received some constructive criticism and feedback about his argument.

The panel was made up of University professors and lawyers acting in place of Supreme Court judges. The University has two other moot courts planned before oral arguments before the Supreme Court.

Liz Kohman welcomes comments at [email protected]