Legislation supported by Hofmann & Schweitzer restored New Jersey Transit railroad worker federal employee protections, such as the right to maintain a lawsuit under the Federal Employer’s Compensation Act (“FELA”), was signed into law by Governor Phil Murphy recently.The bill would have the positive effect of overruling a recent U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals decision that New Jersey Transit Rail Corporation was “an arm of the state” and thereby entitled to claim sovereign immunity under the 11th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Sovereign immunity prevents a state government or its political subdivisions, departments and agencies from being sued without its consent. Although the 11th Amendment purports to apply to actions in federal courts, several decisions of the Supreme Court and other inferior courts strongly suggested that when there was a sovereign immunity defense in federal court over the application of a federal law, that defense could also apply in state courts. As a result, we were greatly concerned that the Third Circuit ruling would be applied to FELA actions for our New Jersey Transit railroad workers brought in both state or federal court. With this legislation, we are happy to advise that federal railroad worker protections will still apply to railroad workers who risk their lives serving the commuting public. The law will insure that federal protections for injuries suffered on the job, unemployment, retirement, whistleblowing and discrimination cannot be defended against as being prohibited by NJ sovereign immunity.
Here is the text of the law:
SENATE, No. 3164, STATE OF NEW JERSEY, 218th LEGISLATURE Waives sovereign immunity of NJ Transit to provide certain protections for NJ Transit employees. An Act concerning protections for New Jersey Transit employees and supplementing P.L.1979, c.150 (C.27:25-1 et seq.). Be It Enacted by the Senate and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey:
1. The New Jersey Transit Corporation, the New Jersey Transit Rail Operations, Inc., and any of their successors and assigns who operate, manage, or develop the railroad system in this State, shall waive any defense of jurisdictional or substantive sovereign immunity arising out of any state or federal claim or cause of action against it or its successors and assigns. In addition, New Jersey Transit Rail Operations, Inc., and any of its successors and assigns who operate, manage or develop the railroad system in this State, shall be subject to the provisions of all federal railroad laws, including the “Railway Labor Act” (45 U.S.C. s.151 et seq.), the “Federal Employers Liability Act” (45 U.S.C. s.51 et seq.), the “Railroad Retirement Act of 1937” (45 U.S.C. s.231 et seq.), the “Railroad Retirement Tax Act” (26 U.S.C. s.3201 et seq.), the “Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act” (45 U.S.C. s.351 et seq.), the Federal railroad safety laws (49 U.S.C. s.20101 et seq.), whistleblower laws, discrimination laws, and the “Interstate Commerce Act” (49 U.S.C. s.10501 et seq.). Such waiver shall be retroactive to any lawsuit currently pending in any state or federal court in New Jersey.
2. This act shall take effect immediately.
Statement That Accompanied The Bill:
This bill provides that New Jersey Transit waives sovereign immunity for claims arising out of the Railway Labor Act, the Federal Employers Liability Act, the Railroad Retirement Act, the Railroad Retirement Tax Act, the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act, the Federal railroad safety laws, whistleblower laws, discrimination laws, and the Interstate Commerce Act. Employees of New Jersey Transit are not covered by many State laws protecting employees and providing employees with certain rights, including workers’ compensation and “whistleblower laws.” Federal laws exist to provide certain protections and rights to these employees. However, New Jersey Transit employees who have brought actions against New Jersey Transit under these laws have been unsuccessful in obtaining relief as New Jersey Transit has claimed sovereign immunity as a defense. This bill would waive New Jersey Transit’s defense of sovereign immunity against claims arising from federal laws intended to protect these employees and provide certain rights to employees.
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