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Arnold & Porter Helps Gain Federal Employment Discrimination Victory Before U.S. Supreme Court

January 17, 2013

Washington, D.C., January 17, 2013 -- The United States Supreme Court last month unanimously ruled in favor of an Arnold & Porter pro bono client, a former employee of the Department of Labor, holding that she had properly filed employment discrimination claims in the federal district court, rather than in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, regardless of whether an administrative agency had earlier decided her case on procedural grounds or the merits.

In 2005, the Firm’s client filed an administrative complaint that her office was creating a hostile work environment based on both her age and her sex.  After years of working through the labyrinthine administrative process, the Merit System Protection Board (MSPB) dismissed her complaint as untimely without reaching the merits of her discrimination claims.

Following the clear mandate of the Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA) of 1978, she filed an employment discrimination lawsuit in federal district court.  But the district court dismissed her case for lack of jurisdiction, saying she should have appealed the MSPB’s procedural ruling to the Federal Circuit, and that district courts under the CSRA can hear only discrimination cases that the MSPB has decided on the merits.  The Eighth Circuit affirmed the dismissal.

Arnold & Porter attorneys thereafter teamed up with Professor Eric Schnapper of the University of Washington School of Law to take her case to the Supreme Court.

The Court agreed to hear the case and unanimously reversed the Eighth Circuit.  The Justices agreed with the Firm’s argument that, notwithstanding a majority of lower court decisions to the contrary, the plain statutory text vested jurisdiction in district courts regardless of how the MSPB resolves a discrimination case:  “The intersection of federal civil rights statutes and civil service law has produced a complicated, at times confusing, process for resolving claims of discrimination in the federal workplace.  But even within the most intricate and complex systems, some things are plain.  So it is in this case.”  The Court’s decision was highly critical of the government’s contrary interpretation of the statutory scheme, calling it  a “contrivance, found nowhere in the statute’s provisions on judicial review.”

Arnold & Porter’s legal team was led by counsel Anthony J. Franze and associates Reeves Anderson and R. Stanton Jones.  The case is Kloeckner v. Solis, 133 S. Ct. 596 (2012).

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