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Kloeckner v. Solis

Summarized by: 

Date Filed: December 10, 2012
Case #: 11-184
Kagan, J., delivered the unanimous Court's opinion.
Full Text Opinion: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/12pdf/11-184_5ifl.pdf

Employment Law: A federal employee seeking judicial review of a decision by the Merit Systems Protection Board in a case alleging that an adverse agency action violated a federal antidiscrimination statute should appeal to the district court and not to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit regardless of whether the MSPB decided the case on the merits.

When Petitioner was an employee of the Department of Labor (Department) she filed a complaint with the Department’s civil rights office alleging sex and age discrimination. After the Department concluded its internal investigation, Petitioner requested an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) hearing. Prior to the hearing, the Department fired Petitioner, and she filed an appeal with the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). Petitioner later changed her mind and asked the MSPB to dismiss her case so that she could continue pursuing the EEOC complaint. After the EEOC judge terminated Petitioner’s claim as a sanction for misconduct, the Department issued its final ruling against Petitioner.

Petitioner filed an appeal of the Department’s ruling with the MSPB, but the MSPB determined that the appeal was an attempt to continue Petitioner’s previously dismissed MSPB case, and dismissed Petitioner’s appeal as untimely. Petitioner then filed an unlawful discrimination action against the Department in district court, which reasoned that her appeal should go to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit because the MSPB had dismissed her case on procedural grounds instead of deciding it on the merits. The district court dismissed Petitioner’s case for lack of jurisdiction and the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed.

The Supreme Court reversed. It held that while normally petitions for review of the MSPB's decisions are to be filed in the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, 5 U.S C. § 7703(b)(2) provides an exception for cases in which the underlying adverse personnel action (here Petitioner’s termination) was allegedly based on discrimination prohibited by a federal statute. According to the Court, these “mixed cases”—as defined in 29 CFR §1614.302—are to be brought in district court regardless of whether the MSPB decision was procedural or on the merits.