If you’re a federal employee, you may have heard that both the Merit Systems Protection Board and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission take on discrimination complaints involving federal employment. In some cases, the proper agency is clear. In others, you can file your complaint with either agency — but not both. Which one should you choose?
We strongly recommend having your specific situation evaluated by a federal employment law attorney. The decision between filing with the MSPB or the EEOC is complex and has a lot of long-term repercussions. For example, when you commit to one agency or another for your complaint, you are committing for the entire resolution process, including appeals.
The two agencies come at the problem of discrimination from slightly different angles. The EEOC’s mission is to enforce anti-discrimination laws, including in the federal workplace, whereas the MSPB’s mission is to protect the federal employment merit system, which includes resolving complaints about prohibited personnel practices.
In the federal sector, discrimination is prohibited when based on race, color, national origin, religion, gender, pregnancy, sexual identity, sexual orientation, age, disability, genetics and, in some cases, marital status, parental status and political affiliation. These categories reflect federal laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans With Disabilities Act, and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, along with certain federal regulations and executive orders.
It is also illegal to retaliate against a federal employee for filing a complaint, participating in the complaint process in someone else’s case, or opposing discrimination — such as blowing the whistle on discrimination.
The first thing your lawyer will do is evaluate your case to determine if it fits solely in the jurisdiction of one agency. However, there are cases of mixed jurisdiction, where a complaint could be filed in either. If your case is mixed, you and your lawyer should consider the benefits and risks of filing in one agency or the other.
For example, filing with the EEOC ultimately requires you to prove discrimination, whereas an MSPB complaint only requires showing that your employer’s actions were prohibited. Also, an MSPB complaint may be resolved sooner than an EEOC complaint, but there may be greater oversight by the EEOC. If you disagree with the final outcome of the EEOC process, you are typically able to file a federal discrimination lawsuit on your own.
If you are experiencing or witnessing discrimination in a federal workplace, you have the right to talk to an attorney right away, even before you’ve taken any action. We recommend you take advantage of that right so you can protect your rights and move forward strategically.