It seems the first answer for almost any legal question is, “it depends.” While that can be frustrating to someone seeking advice, it should come as no surprise. In one respect, the uncertainty is a plus. It reflects that every case is different and deserves judgment on its own merits. Any other approach would reduce the rule of law to little more than rubber stamp actions.
There is an array of laws ensuring due process for federal employees in work disputes. But the path of jurisdiction for any given case can vary. A case might start in one agency, such as the Merit Systems Protection Board or Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, but appeals might require going to one of several courts. Identifying the possible course of action can be daunting without a skilled attorney’s help.
The U.S. Supreme Court weighs in on occasion when there are jurisdictional issues related to so-called “mixed cases” in federal employment law. These are defined as ones where a federal worker might be appealing an adverse job action while also claiming discrimination. In a case five years ago, the high court said appeals of “mixed case” matters belonged in federal district court. Earlier this summer, the court offered additional clarification.
The specific issue in the case was whether different courts should have jurisdiction over separate aspects of “mixed cases.” Antidiscrimination cases are directed to federal district court. But in this mixed matter, after the MSPB said it lacked jurisdiction, the employee was directed to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals for the challenge of his job loss.
Observers may note that this would have required the employee to drive his antidiscrimination appeal through one court and his adverse job action through another – a potentially costly endeavor.
In arguments before the high court, the government sought to enforce lines of distinction. It said that if the MSPB had dismissed the employee’s adverse action on procedural grounds, the appeal could be heard in whole in federal district court. But it said the case was dismissed on jurisdictional grounds and the appeal should be split between two courts.
In its 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court rejected the distinction in types of dismissals and said “mixed cases” can all go to the federal district court.