In an opinion written by Justice Elena Kagan, the court rejected the government's claims that the law splits jurisdiction on mixed cases. (AFP)
The Supreme Court has ruled that federal employees can appeal Merit Systems Protection Board decisions on discrimination in certain personnel actions to federal district courts.
The National Treasury Employees Union applauded the Dec. 10 decision and said sending the cases to district courts will give employees broader appeal rights than sending them to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
The court ruled in favor of a former Labor Department employee, Carolyn Kloeckner, who said she was fired in 2006 after complaining about age and sex discrimination.
Kloeckner had a case pending with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission when she was fired and decided to bring a so-called mixed case to MSPB. She later added her discrimination claim to her EEOC case, and MSPB granted her request to dismiss her case without prejudice, so there would not be duplicative cases.
However, the EEOC judge terminated Kloeckner’s proceeding in April 2007 to punish her for “bad-faith discovery conduct,” according to the Supreme Court, and returned the case to Labor, which ruled against her on all claims. Kloeckner tried to appeal to MSPB in November 2007, but her deadline to refile had passed and MSPB dismissed her appeal as untimely.
Kloeckner sued Labor in federal district court, which dismissed her case and said she should have filed it in a federal circuit court, because MSPB dismissed the case on procedural grounds.
The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the law states such mixed cases should be filed in district court, as Kloeckner did. In an opinion written by Justice Elena Kagan, the court rejected the government’s claims that the law splits jurisdiction on mixed cases — sending cases on MSPB merit decisions to district court and procedural rulings to the circuit court — as implausible and “mazelike.”