A federal appeals court has recently revived a lawsuit filed by a woman who claims that her employer discriminated against her because of her disabilities. What makes this case newsworthy you’re probably wondering? (Hint-look at the logo to the left of this article.) Yes you guessed right. Her employer is none other than the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)—the agency charged with enforcing federal discrimination laws(!)
Plaintiff Mary Bullock has multiple sclerosis and systemic lupus. She was an administrative law judge from 1999 to 2007. In 2006 she brought suit against the EEOC for alleged violations of the Rehabilitation Act. She claimed that the EEOC’s actions were in retaliation for her seeking accommodations because of her illnesses and for her accusing them of discrimination when they refused to comply with her requests.
The allegedly discriminatory acts included withholding a promotion that was due her, not allowing her to work from home and imposing tighter deadlines than those imposed on her non-disabled colleagues. Bullock claimed that the EEOC’s actions amounted to a tantamount discharge.
In 2010 a federal district judge in San Diego dismissed the lawsuit, claiming that Bullock had not exhausted her administrative remedies before taking her claims to the court. Specifically, she filed her administrative appeal too soon.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with the district judge’s ruling, noting that Bullock did not need to wait to file her lawsuit with the court because an administrative law judge had already ruled on her complaint. The administrative appeal that the district judge found fault with was optional, not mandatory. Hence, there was no need to file the administrative appeal before filing the court case.