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Concluding that Congress’ enactment of the Equal Pay Act constituted a valid abrogation of the states’ Eleventh Amendment immunity, a Southern District judge has allowed a woman to proceed with a sex discrimination suit against SUNY Maritime College. Judge Denise Cote ruled that the Act satisfied the “congruence and proportionality” test for whether a statute is appropriate remedial legislation and therefore was an appropriate nullification of state immunity. Thus, Judge Cote denied the state-affiliated college’s motion to dismiss the suit, Stewart v. S.U.N.Y. Maritime College, 99 CIV. 5153 (DLC), which was filed by Lori Stewart, a former security guard at the school. SUNY Maritime, the nation’s first maritime school and an original member of the State University of New York system, is based at Fort Schuyler in the Bronx. Its graduates earn U.S. Coast Guard-issued merchant marine officer licenses and are eligible for commissions in the Coast Guard, U.S. Navy or Naval Reserve and U.S. Marine Corps . Ms. Stewart, who was hired as a public safety officer at the school in November 1995, alleges she was told that her 180-mile commute to the campus would not be a problem since rooms were provided to officers as a part of their compensation. She contends that she was informed on her arrival that there were no vacant rooms, and that later, after the school told her to leave a dormitory room where she had been living, it refused to find her new accommodations, even though it did so for male officers. In addition, Ms. Stewart alleges that she was the victim of sexual harassment from male security officers, and that Eric Guttenplan, SUNY Maritime’s director of public safety and her supervisor, tolerated and encouraged male officers to refer to Ms. Stewart as “mouse” and “rodent.” She contends that she was directed by Mr. Guttenplan to listen to a tape recording of a male cadet’s sexual threats to a female cadet, and that she was denied the opportunity to provide materials on sexual harassment to the college’s cadets and employees. Further, Ms. Stewart alleges that when she did complain, Mr. Guttenplan would respond by telling her that ” ‘of course it’s chauvinistic here, it’s 90 percent male, what do you expect.’ “ Ms. Stewart alleges that after a June 1997 on-the-job back injury, she was certified by a doctor for “light duty,” but that her request for such duty was denied. She also contends that after she took medical leave from July through September 1997, the school refused to let her co-workers donate some of their accrued sick time to her, although a similar donation to a male colleague had been permitted. Finally, Ms. Stewart argues that SUNY Maritime, Mr. Guttenplan and the director of personnel retaliated against her for complaining about the discrimination she had suffered based on sex and disability. Her lawsuit, which seeks at least $36 million in damages, includes eight city and state claims and two federal claims: sex discrimination in wage payments in violation of the Equal Pay Act, and sexual discrimination under the Fourteenth Amendment and §1983. SUNY Maritime moved to dismiss the entire complaint. On the Equal Pay Act claim, Judge Cote found that a triable question of fact remained as to whether the college’s provision of housing should be considered part of wages. The judge also ruled that Ms. Stewart had sufficiently supported her claim that Mr. Guttenplan acted willfully, allowing her to benefit from a three-year statute of limitations under the act. More thorny was SUNY Maritime’s contention that the Equal Pay Act claim is barred by the Eleventh Amendment’s grant of immunity to the states. Judge Cote remarked in her opinion that the 1999 decision of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Anderson v. State University of New York, 169 F3d 117 — a finding that the Equal Pay Act is a reasonably tailored remedial legislation that satisfies the test of congruence and proportionality between the injury and the remedy — was sent back for reconsideration in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision this year in Kimel v. Florida Board of Regents, 120 S. Ct. 631, which found that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 failed to meet the congruence and proportionality standard. But the judge cited the explicit distinction drawn by the Supreme Court in Kimel between gender discrimination and that based on age as support for the legitimacy of the Equal Pay Act. “Although the 2nd Circuit has yet to reconsider its prior holding [in Anderson], this Court joins those finding that nothing in Kimel alters the determination that the Equal Pay Act represents a valid exercise of congressional abrogation of the States’ Eleventh Amendment immunity,” Judge Cote wrote. (After the Supreme Court’s action in Anderson, the 2nd Circuit in turn remanded the case to the district court, where Northern District Chief Judge Thomas J. McAvoy ruled last month that the Equal Pay Act was a valid exercise of Congress’ powers, 2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10148.) Judge Cote also rejected SUNY Maritime’s attempt to dismiss the §1983 claim on the ground that Mr. Guttenplan was not involved in the harassment. “This argument ignores the plaintiff’s allegations that Guttenplan was aware of these and numerous other harassing events,” the judge wrote, “and not only failed to take remedial action, but also ‘laughed at’ plaintiff’s attempts to seek redress and otherwise fostered a discriminatory environment.” Finally, Judge Cote rejected the defendants’ motion to dismiss the state and city claims. “Without reference to either individual claims or specific allegations in the complaint, defendants argue briefly and generally that all of plaintiff’s state and city law claims should be dismissed because they are either time-barred or pled with insufficient specificity,” the judge wrote. “Such conclusory statements are insufficient to place before the court a motion to dismiss these multiple claims.” Mary A. Wright of Schierberl & Wright represented Ms. Stewart. Assistant Attorney General Arlene R. Smoler represented the defendants.

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