People For the American Way Foundation

Biden Judges Rule that Federal Employee is Entitled to Day in Court on Discrimination Claims

Biden Judges Rule that Federal Employee is Entitled to Day in Court on Discrimination Claims

Judge Florence Pan, nominated by President Biden to the court of appeals for the DC Circuit, wrote a unanimous opinion holding that a federal employee who retired after personnel problems at his agency is allowed his day in court to try to prove race and other discrimination claims against the agency. The opinion was joined by Biden nominee Judge Brad Garcia and by Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson, nominated by the first President Bush. The May 2024 decision was in Perry v Raimondo.

 

What is the background of this case?

 Anthony Perry, who is black, worked for the Census Bureau for more than 25 years. While at the Bureau, he filed several EEO complaints concerning race and age discrimination that were not resolved. Towards the end of his tenure, concerns were raised about his absenteeism and other personnel problems. Perry and the Bureau reached a settlement of all his personnel claims, under which he withdrew his claims and retired voluntarily in 2012.

After his departure, however, Perry decided to challenge the actions by the Bureau that led to the end of his employment by filing an appeal with the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). He claimed both that the Bureau had discriminated against him based on race, age, and disability, including retaliation for filing administrative complaints, and also that his retirement had been coerced in violation of civil service law.

The MSPB denied Perry’s claims, which led to a complex set of appeals that ultimately resulted in the case being sent to federal district court. The court granted summary judgment against Perry on all his claims. Perry then appealed to the DC Circuit.

 

How did Judges Pan and Garcia and the DC Circuit Rule and Why is it Important?

 In a unanimous ruling, Judge Pan partly reversed the lower court. She held that while the lower court was correct on the personnel claims, it had improperly refused to grant a hearing to Perry on the facts of his discrimination claims. She sent the case back to the lower court so that Perry can have his day in court to try to prove that case.

Based on a careful review of the relevant statutes and precedent, Judge Pan explained that when a case before the MSPB includes discrimination claims and it is then considered by a district court, the individual is “entitled to have the ‘facts’ of his discrimination claims ‘subject to trial de novo’ in the district court.” Pan acknowledged that there may well have been “confusion” on this issue and noted that this case required the court to “clarify” the correct procedure.

Judge Pan’s opinion is obviously important to Anthony Perry, who will now have his day in court to try to prove that the Census Bureau illegally discriminated against him. The decision also sets new precedent in the DC Circuit that clarifies the proper standard and procedure when an individual raises a discrimination claim in a case before the MSPB. In addition, the ruling serves as an important reminder of the significance of promptly confirming fair-minded nominees to our federal courts.