Kloeckner v. Solis, 133 S. Ct. 596 (U.S. 2012).
On December 10, 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in Kloeckner v. Solis holding that “[a] federal employee who claims that an agency action appealable to the MSPB violates an antidiscrimination statute listed in §7702(a)(1) should seek judicial review in district court, not in the Federal Circuit” irrespective of whether the claim was decided on the merits or on procedural grounds. Petitioner, Carolyn Kloeckner, while working at the Department of Labor (DOL) filed a complaint in June 2005 with the DOL’s civil rights office claiming that the “DOL had engaged in unlawful sex and age discrimination by subjecting her to a hostile work environment.” Because Kloeckner had not been subject to removal or demotion her action was not a “sufficiently serious personnel action” so as to allow further appeal to the Merit System Protection Board (MSPB). An internal investigation was conducted and a final report was issued in June 2006. However, a month after requesting a hearing with the EEOC Kloeckner was terminated from her position.
Upon removal Kloeckner filed a claim with the MSPB alleging unlawful discrimination. However, in order to minimize the burdensome cost of duplicative discovery Kloeckner added her “discriminatory removal” claim to her action pending before the EEOC. Petitioner then requested that the MSPB “dismiss her case without prejudice for four months to allow the EEOC process to go forward.” Later the EEOC terminated the case as a means of sanctioning Kloeckner “for bad-faith discovery conduct.” The case was returned to the DOL where a final determination was entered against Kloeckner. Kloeckner then appealed to the MSPB. However, “[t]he board dismissed Kloeckner’s appeal as untimely, viewing it as an effort to reopen her old MSPB case months after the January 18 deadline.” Kloeckner subsequently appealed to the Federal District Court where her claims were dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. In particular, the Court relied on an ruling by the Eighth Circuit in Brumley v. Levinson, 991 F.2d 801 (1993), in finding that Kloeckner’s claim was dismissed by the MSPB on procedural grounds and therefore, under §7703(b)(1) of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 (the Act) review should have been sought in the Federal Circuit. The Court held that cases alleging discrimination could only proceed to the district court were the board decided the issue on the merits pursuant to §7703(b)(2) of the Act. The Eighth Circuit affirmed.
The Supreme Court granted certiorari in order to resolve the “Circuit split on whether an employee seeking judicial review should proceed in the Federal Circuit or in a district court when the MSPB has dismissed her mixed case on procedural grounds.” The Court reversed the holding of the Eight Circuit noting that 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 . . . No one here contests that Kloeckner brought a mixed case—that she was affected by an action (i.e., removal) appealable to the MSPB and that she alleged discrimination prohibited by an enumerated federal law. And under the CSRA’s terms, that is all that matters. Regardless whether the MSPB dismissed her claim on the merits or instead threw it out as untimely, Kloeckner brought the kind of case that the CSRA routes, in crystalline fashion, to district court.