Leonard v. East Stroudsburg Univ., PICS Case No. 14-0189 (C.P. Monroe Dec. 9, 2013) Zulick, J. (9 pages).


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Age Discrimination • Government • Constitutional Law

Leonard v. East Stroudsburg Univ., PICS Case No. 14-0189 (C.P. Monroe Dec. 9, 2013) Zulick, J. (9 pages).

Where a plaintiff seeks injunctive or declaratory relief against a state officer for violations of law, sovereign immunity is not a defense; however, the state itself is still immune. Dismissed.

Plaintiff Dolores Leonard brought an action for damages and injunctive relief under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act and the federal Age Discrimination and Employment Act against East Stroudsburg University, a unit of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, alleging age discrimination by ESU.

ESU brought a preliminary objection to Leonard's complaint, arguing that it enjoyed sovereign immunity as a part of the Pennsylvania government. Specifically, ESU argued that the ADEA did not abrogate the sovereign immunity of the states, citing Kimel v. Florida Bd. of Regents, in which the Supreme Court held that abrogation of the states' sovereign immunity under the ADEA was not a valid exercise of Congress' power. The court agreed with ESU's argument, holding that sovereign immunity barred Leonard from seeking monetary damages against ESU.

The court considered Leonard's argument that sovereign immunity was not a defense against injunctive or declaratory relief. The court found that while sovereign immunity did protect state parties from being compelled to act, it did not protect them from being prohibited from acting in a manner contrary to federal law. Furthermore, the court noted that the Third Circuit held in Smith v. Secretary of Dept. of Environmental Protection of Pennsylvania that seeking reinstatement to employment by manner of injunction was not barred by sovereign immunity, and that the Supreme Court had generally excepted injunctive relief restraining a state officer from an illegal act from being barred by sovereign immunity in Ex parte Young.

However, the instant court noted that the exception in Ex parte Young was only available against state officers, not the state itself or an agency or department of the state, which could still enjoy the protections of sovereign immunity even against injunctive relief. As Leonard brought the instant action against ESU and not one of its officers, her claim was barred by sovereign immunity and was dismissed.