Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Justices: Civil servants can appeal to U.S. District Court

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court says some discrimination complaints from federal workers can go to federal district court, instead of being forced into the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

The justices on Monday ruled unanimously that some appeals from the Merit Systems Protection Board can go before U.S. District Court judges if they involve discrimination claims dismissed for procedural reasons.

Carolyn M. Kloeckner was fired from the Labor Department in 2005 after complaining of sex and age discrimination and a hostile work environment, as well as being declared “absent without leave.”

The Merit Systems board dismissed her claims as untimely, and she tried to appeal to the U.S. District Court.

However, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said her appeal could only be heard by the D.C.-based Federal Circuit because the dismissal was procedural in nature.

The justices reversed that decision.

“The Government’s alternative view — that the [Civil Service Reform Act of 1978] directs the [Merit Systems board’s] merits decisions to district court, while channeling its proce­dural rulings to the Federal Circuit — is not supported by the statute,” the Supreme Court held, in an opinion by Justice Elena Kagan.

The government claimed the “bifurcated scheme,” which was not specified in the text of the law, was “hidden in the statute’s tim­ing requirements,” the syllabus to the opinion says.

“But the Government cannot explain why Congress would have constructed such an obscure path to such a simple result,” the court said. “And taking the Government’s analysis one step at a time makes it no more plausible.”

The case is Kloeckner v. Solis, No. 11–184.