In Ikossi v. Department of Navy, No. 05-5456 (DC Cir. 2/29/08), the federal court of appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed a district court, finding there was jurisdiction over a mixed-case appeal but that pre-termination EEO claims were untimely, and remanded the case for discovery.
The appellant was an electrical engineer at a Navy Research Lab. She received numerous awards and good appraisals. However, she believed that she was not receiving credit for her work because she was a female and complained about a hostile work environment. Subsequently, the appellant filed an EEO complaint asserting discrimination on the basis of her sex, age and national origin, and retaliation. She was terminated after taking extensive leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
She filed a mixed-case appeal with the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) concerning her termination. The agency dismissed her EEO complaint and provided notice of her right to appeal to the EEOC or sue within 90 days. While appellant's MSPB case was still pending, she filed a complaint in the federal district court under Title VII and the FMLA. Then, the appellant filed a second lawsuit that included claims under the Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA). The district court dismissed her FMLA and CSRA claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, dismissed for timeliness her discrimination claims that were not related to her termination, and granted summary judgment to the agency on the remaining claims.
The court of appeals found that dismissal of the mixed case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction was not appropriate because more than 120 days had elapsed since the filing of the MSPB appeal. 5 USC 7702(e)(1)(B). However, it agreed that the appellant's pre-termination claims were time-barred because she did not appeal to the EEOC within 90 days of the agency's dismissal. Further, the appellant's motion to amend her initial complaint to include the pre-termination claims was not timely. The appeals court noted that National R.R. Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101 (2002), only pertains to the timely filing of a charge after the allegedly biased incident occurs. It "does not suggest that a plaintiff can obtain judicial review of an EEO decision outside of the ninety-day period or raise a hostile work environment claim without first exhausting administrative remedies."
Finally, the court of appeals held that the trial court should have given the appellant an opportunity for discovery prior to dismissing her termination-based discrimination claims. The court explained that a district court cannot ordinarily resolve a Title VII complaint based on the administrative record, noting the "substantial interests served by a fair and complete judicial fact-finding process, replete with the tools of discovery and compulsory process."
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