Monday, February 20, 2006

Fourth Circuit overrules prior precedent on legal effect of decisions of EEOC

On February 16, 2005, the Fourth Circuit issued its opinion in Laber v. Francis J. Harvey, Sec. of the Army, in which it overruled precedent regarding the legal effect of decisions of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's Office of Federal Operations (OFO). Prior to the Fourth Circuit's decision in Laber a federal employee who prevailed on a discrimination claim before the OFO on the issue of liability, but was unsatisfied with the OFO's remedy, did not have to put the issue of liability at issue in order to claim entitlement to a more favorable award on appeal to the District Court. In Laber the Fourth Circuit expressly overruled this precedent. It did so on the basis that its prior precedent was inconsistent both with the statutory scheme set forth in Title VII and prior Supreme Court case law. In particular, it noted that the Supreme Court has held that the right of private sector and federal employees to seek de novo consideration of their employment discrimination claims is identical. In the private sector, administrative findings are merely evidence that can be accepted or rejected by the trier of fact. Therefore, holding that federal employees may put at issue only the OFO's remedial award would inappropriately give federal employees greater rights than private sector employees in a civil action.

(Contributed by Sandi R. Wilson)

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