RESPONDENT: Hilda L. Solis, Secretary of Labor
LOCATION: Department of Labor Employee Benefits Security Administration
DOCKET NO.: 11-184
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
CITATION: 568 US (2012)
GRANTED: Jan 13, 2012
ARGUED: Oct 02, 2012
DECIDED: Dec 10, 2012
Eric Schnapper - for the petitioner
Sarah E. Harrington - Assistant to the Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the respondent
Facts of the case
Carolyn Kloeckner filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging hostile work environment as well as sex and age discrimination. When her employer charged her with being "absent without leave," she amended her complaint to include retaliation. Kloeckner never returned to work, and eventually her employer terminated her. Kloeckner challenged the termination while her initial complaint was still pending, making it a "mixed case." Kloeckner appealed the termination to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), but then requested a dismissal so she could amend her EEOC complaint. The MSPB granted the dismissal, giving her a set period to refile.
When the EEOC found there had been no discrimination or retaliation, Kloeckner appealed the decision to the MSPB. While the appeal was within 30 days of the EEOC decision, it was 10 months after the refilling period set by the MSPB. The MSPB dismissed the case as untimely. Kloeckner filed an appeal in the District Court for the District of Columbia. The case was removed to the District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, which held that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit had exclusive jurisdiction because the MSPB had not ruled on the merits of the case.
Does a District Court or a Court of Appeals have jurisdiction over an employment discrimination claim that was dismissed by the Merit Systems Protection Board without ruling on the merits?
Media for Kloeckner v SolisAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 02, 2012 in Kloeckner v Solis
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - December 10, 2012 in Kloeckner v Solis
John G. Roberts, Jr.:
Justice Kagan has the opinion of the Court this morning in Case No. 11-184 Kloeckner versus Solis.
Under the Civil Service Reform Act, which I'll call the CSRA for short, a federal employee who was fired, demoted or subjected to another serious personal action can challenge that action before an administrative body called the Merit Systems Protection Board which I sometimes just the Board for short.
If the employee thinks the personnel action was not only unjustified but also based on illegal discrimination, such as race discrimination or sex discrimination, then the employee has what Federal Regulations call a mixed case.
The case is called mixed because it involves both a serious personnel action against the Federal employee and a claim of discrimination.
The petitioner in this case, Carolyn Kloeckner has such a mixed case.
She was fired by the Department of Labor and claims that her firing was discriminatory, so she initially brought her case to the Merit Systems Protection Board, but the Board found that she had not complied with its filing deadlines and dismissed the case.
An employee like Ms. Kloeckner, whose mixed case is rejected by the Board is entitled to judicial review, review by a Court.
The question in this case is where Ms. Kloeckner should go to seek that review.
That is a question of statutory interpretation.
What does the CSRA say about which court Ms. Kloeckner should file suit in.
Ms. Kloeckner says that under the CSRA, she should file a discrimination suit against the Government in Federal district court and that is in fact what she did.
But the Government says that would be true only if the Board had ruled against her on the merits of her discrimination claim, because the Board, instead, dismissed her case on procedural grounds.
The Government contends Ms. Kloeckner should instead file a petition in the Federal Circuit which is a specialized Appellate Court.
The courts below agreed with the Government and accordingly dismiss the suit Ms. Kloeckner filed in district court.
Today, we reverse that decision.
We hold that when the Board rules against the Federal employee who claims that a serious personnel action violates an anti-discrimination statute, the employee should seek judicial review by filing suit in district court under the applicable anti-discrimination law.
That is true irrespective of whether the Board's decision was on the merits or on procedural grounds.
Our decision is based on two sections of the CSRA.
We look first to Section 7703.
That Section provides that Federal employees should generally seek judicial review of Board decisions in the Federal Circuit, but it also includes an important exception for what it describes as cases of discrimination subject to the provisions of Section 7702.
Those cases, Section 7703 tell us, should be filed in district court.
We next look to Section 7702, the cross-referenced section, which tells us that cases of discrimination subject to its provisions are what I've been calling mixed cases, cases like Ms. Kloeckner's in which a Federal employee charges that a serious personnel action was discriminatory.
So, when we put Sections 7703 and 7702 together, we find a straightforward instruction.
Mixed cases like Ms. Kloeckner's should be filed in district court and not in the Federal Circuit.
The Government's argument to the contrary, it's claimed that the CSRA sends the Board's Merits decisions to district court while sending it's procedural rulings to the Federal Circuit.
Well, it's very complicated.
It's so complicated that I'm not going to try to explain it to you this morning.
More to the point, it's too complicated to be right.
The CSRA provides a simple answer to the question before us and we today acknowledge that clear congressional command in rejecting the Government's argument and telling Ms. Kloeckner that she was correct to file her discrimination suit in District Court.
Our opinion is unanimous.