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Federal Employees can appeal MSPB decisions to district courts

When an employee of the federal government loses a case involving questions of discrimination and procedural issues with Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), courts had ruled that the employee must appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

The U.S. Supreme Court last week ruled this was incorrect, in a decision highly critical of the federal government's interpretation of how the Civil Rights Act and civil service law interact. The plaintiff had been fired from her job at the Department of Labor, and she alleged the department engaged in unlawful sex and age discrimination by subjecting her to a hostile work environment.

The MSPB dismissed her case on procedural issues and did not decide the core issue of her firing. The district court ruled she could not appeal this type of case to a district court and instead had to appeal to the Federal Circuit, because it was a "mixed case."

The case was "mixed," meaning it involved allegations of discrimination. The Supreme Court acknowledged the complexity of the law governing these matters, but was critical of the federal government's interpretation of the laws, calling them, "mazelike," and "tortuous."

The 9-0 opinion, authored by Justice Elena Kagan, needed almost 900 words just to lay out the basic procedural rules that apply to this type of case. At one point, Justice Kagan comments that after detailing the requirements of this case, you need to take a "deep breath."

She further notes, "It would be hard to dream up a more roundabout way of bifurcating judicial review of the MSPB's rulings in mixed cases. If Congress had wanted to send merits decisions to district court and procedural dismissals to the Federal Circuit, it could just have said so."

Source: Federal Times, "Supreme Court grants broader appeal rights," Steven Losey, December 14, 2012

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