Nevada Assembly panel votes to erase state’s lawsuit immunity
CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — An Assembly panel voted Wednesday for a bill to erase Nevada’s immunity from lawsuits filed by state workers claiming violations of federal civil rights and fair labor laws.
The Judiciary Committee sent AB341 to the Assembly floor after its sponsor, Assemblyman John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, and advocates for state workers, the disabled, seniors and others backed the plan.
Without the law change, Scott MacKenzie of the State of Nevada Employees Association said there ought to be a warning on forms filled out by state job applicants that “the state of Nevada does not honor federal laws that benefit workers.”
The bill would waive Nevada’s lawsuit immunity in cases involving the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, Family and Medical Leave Act, Civil Rights Act, Americans with Disabilities Act and Age Discrimination in Employment Act.
The measure was sought in part because of the case of a Nevada welfare office worker, William Hibbs, fired in a dispute over how much leave he could take to care for his ailing wife. That case is now before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Labor and women’s rights groups are supporting Hibbs, from McGill in eastern Nevada, while 13 other states and some conservative legal groups are supporting Nevada, which argues it’s immune from such lawsuits.
During the Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday, Robert Robinson of Fallon told lawmakers he had been fired from a state prison job because of a disability that he had disclosed at the time he was hired.
“They’ve ruined my life. I went as far as having to file bankruptcy,” Robinson said in describing how he sued in federal court trying to get his job back.
“And if this (existing) law keeps on going, you don’t know how many people it’s going to hurt,” he said, adding, “It’s disgusting to see a state treat their employees the way they did me.”
Also supporting AB341 were representatives of AARP-Nevada, the Nevada Faculty Alliance, National Association of Social Workers-Nevada, and the Nevada ACLU.
Jeff Parker, solicitor general in the state attorney general’s office, urged the committee to reject the bill. He said it would add to the state’s costs in resolving lawsuits and would require his office to hire more staffers.
Parker said that trying to resolve state employee-employer disputes with legislation like AB341 “is sort of like killing an ant with dynamite.”
But Assemblywoman Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said that in the Hibbs case the state’s refusal to settle earlier resulted in a protracted dispute that reached the nation’s highest court.
“Mr. Hibbs was the ant … and the state was the dynamite,” Buckley added.
Ten members of the Judiciary Committee voted for the bill while five abstained, mainly because they said they wanted more information. The abstainers included Republicans Sharron Angle, David Brown, Don Gustavson, Jason Geddes and Garn Mabey.