NM Supreme Court: State agencies aren’t immune from — USERRA claims by national guard members

In Justice Judith Nakamura’s first opinion, the New Mexico Supreme Court has ruled that state agencies are not immune from claims under the federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (– USERRA), which prohibits discrimination against members of the military.

Although — USERRA creates a private right of action for individuals, it wasn’t clear whether Congress could abrogate the sovereign immunity of the states. After Phillip Ramirez, Jr. won a jury verdict against New Mexico’s Children, Youth, and Families Department under — USERRA for allegedly firing him due to his military service in the national guard, the New Mexico Court of Appeals held that New Mexico has not waived its state sovereign immunity against such claims, and that Congress lacks the power to abrogate New Mexico’s sovereign immunity.

In Ramirez v. CYFD, the Supreme Court reversed on the ground that New Mexico has waived its sovereign immunity against — USERRA claims under Section 20-4-7.1(B), which provides that — USERRA’s rights and benefits “shall apply” to members of the New Mexico national guard. Among those rights is the right to sue for violations of — USERRA. The Court also held that deciding the case on that ground made it unnecessary to decide whether the federal constitution gives Congress the power to abrogate state sovereign immunity for such claims against a state’s will.

 

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