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Supreme Court rules on jurisdiction for mixed issue labor claims

The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] unanimously Monday in Kloeckner v. Solis [JURIST report] that a federal employee appealing a "mixed case" from the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) [official website] should appeal by suing in the appropriate district court, not appealing the decision to the Federal Circuit. The "mixed case" in this situation involved a wrongful termination claim that was to be decided with a discrimination claim. The former typically is appealed to the Federal Circuit after the MSPB decision, while the latter can be taken directly to district court if so desired. Carolyn Kloeckner, through a series of various agency decisions due to the unusual nature of her mixed case, was denied review in district court because the MSPB had decided her matter on procedural grounds, not the merits, and thus the district court and the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit believed the Federal Circuit had jurisdiction. Justice Elena Kagan explained that this was not the case, pointing to sections 7703 and 7702 [texts] of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 [materials].

As the above account reveals, the intersection of federal civil rights statutes and civil service law has produced a complicated, at times confusing, process for resolving claims of discrimination in the federal workplace. But even within the most intricate and complex systems, some things are plain. So it is in this case, where two sections of the CSRA, read naturally, direct employees like Kloeckner to district court. [...] Now just put §7703 and §7702 together-say, in the form of a syllogism, to make the point obvious. Under §7703(b)(2), "cases of discrimination subject to [ §7702]" shall be filed in district court. Under §7702(a)(1), the "cases of discrimination subject to [§7702]" are mixed cases-those appealable to the MSPB and alleging discrimination. Ergo, mixed cases shall be filed in district court.

And so that is where Kloeckner's case should have been filed (as indeed it was).

The Supreme Court reversed the decision [opinion] of the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

The case arose when Carolyn Kloeckner filed an anti-discrimination claim against the Department of Labor (DOL), where she worked, with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) [official website]. She claimed that she was being discriminated based on age and gender. This type of claim would not be appealable to the MSPB because no personnel action had been taken against. However, while she was waiting for the EEOC to rule on her claim, she was fired, and thus had a second claim for unlawful termination. Due to a series of procedural mishaps, Kloeckner had concurrent claims in both the EEOC and MSPB. She amended the former and had the latter dismissed without prejudice, but later, when the EEOC finally ruled, they returned the case to the DOL as a sanction for Kloeckner not following proper discovery procedure. The DOL ruled against Kloeckner, and when she attempted to appeal, her case was dismissed due to the belief she was appealing her original case with the MSPB. She then filed in district court, which ruled against her for lack of jurisdiction. This far, her case has never been adjudged on the merits.

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