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Is a Federal Employee Required to Comply with Internal Deadlines Before Bringing a Civil Action?

Employees of the Federal Government have their own internal system and administrative review that must be completed before proceeding with litigation in the civil courts. This internal system includes stringent deadlines for notifying the EEOC of any discrimination or retaliation. The below case affirms that a federal employee must comply with internal deadlines or be unable to proceed with a claim of discrimination in Federal Court.

Ms. Marquez is a program analyst for the Federal Acquisition Service ("FAS") a branch of the federal government called General Services Administration ("GSA"). GSA supplies products and communications for U.S. government offices, provides transportation and office space to federal employees, and develops government-wide cost-minimizing policies, and other management tasks. FAS is one of two Services within GSA, and is responsible for a variety of functions in support of government functions, including procurement of products and services, management of a motor vehicle fleet and disposal of personal property. Ms. Marquez stated that her boss created a hostile work environment on the basis of her race starting in October 2008. On October 28, 2009, Ms. Marquez met with an EEO counselor and on December 31, 2009 she filed a formal complaint of discrimination based on the treatment she received from her supervisor.

Sometime in 2009 or 2010, Ms. Marquez was a witness in an EEO investigation involving another GSA employee. On June 17, 2010, Ms. Marquez initiated EEO counseling for a second time. On August 5, 2010, she filed a second EEO complaint which asserted retaliation and discrimination claims based on her treatment following her participation in the EEO investigation. Ms. Marquez filed a Complaint in the U.S. District Court on August 8, 2011, for employment discrimination and retaliation under Title VII.

Title VII prohibits discrimination by an employer, "against any individual with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." 42 U.S.C. ยง 2000e-2(a)(1)(1982). Before bringing suit under Title VII in federal court, a federal employee must present a discrimination claim to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Moreover, under Title VII, a plaintiff must exhaust administrative remedies for each incident of discriminatory or unlawful treatment before seeking judicial relief. An aggrieved federal employee must initiate contact with a Counselor within forty-five (45) days of the date of the matter alleged to be discriminatory or, in the case of personnel action, within forty-five (45) days of the effective date of the action. The EEO office has the ability to extend the forty-five (45) day time limits for a few exceptions; 1) where the complainant was not notified of the time limits or not otherwise aware of them; 2) where the complaint did not know and reasonably should not have known that the discriminatory event or personnel action occurred; 3) despite due diligence the complainant was prevented by circumstances beyond his or her control from contacting an EEO counselor within forty-five (45) days; 4) or other reasons considered sufficient by the agency or the Commission. Hathcok v. Dep't. of the Air Force, Appeal No. 0120093324 (Jan. 22, 2010). However, these four (4) exceptions are rarely granted to toll the deadline.

In this case, Ms. Marquez did not meet with the EEO counselor within the forty-five (45) days and did not present any evidence of the above four factors. Therefore, the District Court held that her claims were not properly exhausted so she was unable to bring claims in Federal Court and granted summary judgment denying her claims. Ms. Marquez appealed to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals but the decision against her was affirmed.

If you have a question about discrimination claims for federal employees, contact us at www.BryanKuhnLaw.com/ to discuss your legal rights.

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