Keeping It Simple: Supreme Court Untangles Mixed Case Procedure

By Rebecca Hamburg posted 12-11-2012 11:51 AM


Workers: 1, Employers: 0. That’s the tally so far in this Fall’s U.S. Supreme Court term, which we noted in last week’s @NELA: News For NELA Members contains a number of cases with important consequences for employee advocates. In Kloeckner v. Solis, the first employment-related decision this term, the Supreme Court handed employees a rare 9-0 victory. Carolyn Kloeckner, represented before the Supreme Court by the ubiquitous employee advocate Professor Eric Schnapper, brought a complaint before the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) against her former employer, the U.S. Department of Labor, for wrongful termination and discrimination. When the MSPB ruled against her on her termination claim but failed to address her discrimination claim, she brought suit in federal district court. The lower courts were divided as to whether federal district court or the Federal Circuit was the proper venue for her case after the MSPB’s ruling.

These so-called “mixed cases,” involving both disputed termination and unlawful discrimination claims and resting at the intersection of civil service and civil rights law, have produced, as Justice Kagan wrote, “a complicated, at times confusing, process for resolving claims of discrimination in the federal workplace.” Despite this entanglement, the Court found that “some things are plain”: Ms. Kloeckner’s case belongs in federal district court, whether or not the MSPB rules on the merits of her claims.