Judge Tiffany Cunningham, nominated by President Biden to the Federal Circuit, wrote a unanimous decision, joined by Biden Judge Leonard Stark, that rejected an effort by the Army to dismiss a disability discrimination claim brought by a former employee, and instead ensured that the case could go forward in another court. The Federal Circuit issued its ruling in Wiegand v Dept. of the Army in October 2023.
What happened that led to the Federal Circuit decision?
The Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) upheld the decision of the US Army to remove Brandon Wiegand from a civilian position there. It also rejected affirmative defenses he tried to raise in which he claimed that the Army discriminated against him on the basis of disability and retaliated against him for raising fair employment claims.
Wiegand filed a petition to review the MPSB ruling with the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals. The Army moved to dismiss the claim for lack of jurisdiction, which would include throwing out Wiegand’s discrimination claims.
How did Judges Cunningham, Stark and the Federal Circuit Rule and Why is it Important?
Biden Judge Cunningham wrote a brief unanimous decision, which was also joined by Biden Judge Stark. The ruling recognized that the court did not have proper jurisdiction over Wiegand’s discrimination and related claims. But it rejected the Army’s effort to throw out these claims altogether. Instead, the court ordered the case to be transferred to a federal district court in Pennsylvania, which does have jurisdiction to hear such claims, so that the district court could hear the case and “address any issues raised by the agency.”
Cunningham’s ruling was a simple one that obviously benefits Wiegand by preserving his ability to get his day in court on his discrimination claims. It also makes clear that in future appeals from MSPB decisions to discharge an employee, a worker’s ability to raise discrimination claims should be preserved, even if in a different court. The ruling also serves as another reminder of the importance of promptly confirming fair-minded Biden nominees like Judge Cunningham and Judge Stark to our federal courts.