In the intricate tapestry of legal frameworks, one concept that often surfaces is legal immunity. This term encompasses various protections granted to individuals or entities, shielding them from certain legal consequences.
In employment law, there are two main types of immunity that come into play: Sovereign Immunity and Qualified Immunity. This blog provides a brief overview of both..
- 1. Sovereign Immunity:
Sovereign immunity traces its roots to the idea that the government is immune from lawsuits or legal action. This immunity applies to both the federal government and state governments, as well as their agencies. This immunity shields government entities and officials from being personally liable for actions undertaken in their official capacity. Although this doctrine has ancient origins, its application varies across jurisdictions.
However, sovereign immunity is not absolute. Exceptions exist, allowing legal action in certain circumstances. For instance, if a government entity engages in actions outside its official capacity or acts negligently, immunity may be waived, permitting legal proceedings. IN. some situations, a state government waives sovereign immunity for certain causes of action simply by accepting federal funds. The Rehabilitation Act is an example of this type of waiver.
In some cases, governments may consent to lawsuits or create specific procedures for citizens to seek redress. Examples of laws where the government has consented to suit include Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Chapter 21 of the Texas Labor Code, as well as the Federal and Texas Tort Claims Act. Those statutes also mandate specific procedures that must be followed in order to overcome sovereign immunity. For example, under Title VII and Chapter 21, a plaintiff must first file a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Office of the Texas Workforce Commission, respectively to be able to bring suit under either statute against the federal or state government.
One final controversial note about state and federal sovereign immunity: it is not actually found anywhere in the Constitution. The idea that a citizen of a state cannot sue that state’s government here in the United States was created by judges interpreting the 11th Amendment. But take a look at the text of that amendment and you tell me whether that is what it actually say.
Anyway, on to qualified immunity!
- 2. Qualified Immunity:
Qualified immunity is a legal doctrine primarily applied to shield government officials, such as law enforcement officers, from personal liability in the course of their duties. It grants protection unless the official’s conduct violates “clearly established” constitutional rights. Critics argue that this doctrine can shield officials from accountability, especially when there is ambiguity about whether a right was clearly established at the time of the alleged violation. This can be a big problem. Some courts take an extremely narrow view of what is clearly established law. This has resulted in many officials being able to escape liability because the exact thing that official did had not happened before. It can also lead to the bizarre outcome of a court finding that even though a government official violated the constitution or other law, they are not liable because no one had violated the constitution or law in that specific way before. In other words, critics say, the government gets one free violation of the constitution and the law.
Debates surrounding qualified immunity often center on the balance between protecting officials from personal liability and ensuring accountability for potential misconduct. Advocates argue that it is essential for officials to perform their duties without the constant fear of litigation, while opponents assert that accountability is crucial to maintaining trust in public institutions.
These issues can be complex and confusing. If you believe you have an employment case against a state government or the federal government, you should talk to an attorney about your options and what can be done. The attorneys at Wiley Walsh, P.C> have experience with these issues and are happy to discuss potential options with you. If you would like to set up a consultation, please contact us at 512-271-557 or you can book online at our website www.wileywalsh.com