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December 10, 2012
Supreme Court Action: Administrative Appeal Path In Discrimination Cases Under The CSRA
The Supreme Court decided one case this morning, and it’s one with an issue that only a bureaucrat or an administrative law faculty member could love. The case is Kloeckner v. Solis (11-184). The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 (CSRA) provides an administrative path of review for aggrieved federal employees on the adverse side of a decision. That path leads to review by the Department or directly to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) unless there are claims of discrimination. That alternative path via discrimination can lead through agencies charged with hearing administrative discrimination claims such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), as in this case. These are called “mixed cases.” Judicial review is available to decisions of the MSPB and directed by statute to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit under §7703(b)(1) of the CSRA. However, adverse discrimination decisions are reviewable in the District Court under the statutory regime that prohibits the alleged discrimination under CSRA §7702.
Carol Kloeckner alleged that the Department of Labor (DOL) discriminated against her on grounds of sex and age by creating a hostile work environment. She filed a complaint with the EEOC which caused the DOL to investigate her claim. Her claim was pending before the MSPB as well. Kloeckner was fired as the EEOC case was pending. She moved to dismiss the MSPB action without prejudice and that motion was granted. She had a right to refile by January 18, 2007. She also moved for a hearing before the EEOC which was granted. The administrative law judge in that hearing dismissed Kloeckner’s case in April of 2007 due to bad-faith discovery conduct. The DOL ruled against Kloeckner in October of 2007. She appealed that ruling to the MSPB in November and it was denied as untimely due to the January deadline. Kloeckner sought review in the District Court. That action was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction with the Eight Circuit affirming.
The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the language of the CSRA allows the adverse administrative decision, in this “mixed” case to go to the District Court. §7703 provides for an explicit exception to the Federal Circuit’s jurisdiction through the language of §7702. The government argued that procedural dismissals (such as that of the MSPB) should go to the Federal Circuit, and substantive dismissals to the District Court. The Court rejected this as unsupported in the CSRA language. Justice Kagan delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. [MG]