(CN) – The D.C. Circuit revived a lawsuit brought by more than 250 former and current Capitol Police officers, alleging systemic discrimination against female and minority officers.
The officers of the District of Columbia police force, which is charged with protecting Congress, claimed they were subject to bias in hiring, promotions and discipline, and often faced retaliation and hostile work environments.
The district court dismissed their case, saying the plaintiffs first needed to show that they’d completed counseling and mediation.
Under the Congressional Accountability Act, employees of the legislative branch must take three steps before filing a complaint: They must seek counseling within 180 days of the alleged discrimination; request mediation within 15 days of completing counseling; and file an administrative complaint with the Office of Compliance or a civil complaint in federal district court 30 to 90 days after mediation.
The D.C. Circuit agreed with the district judge that the counseling and mediation requirements were jurisdictional, meaning they needed to be fulfilled before employees could sue in federal court. This means that the doctrine of vicarious exhaustion – where at least one officer’s completion of the requirements suffices for the entire class – does not apply.
But the federal appeals court disagreed that the employees had to attend counseling and mediation sessions in person, saying the law imposed no such requirement.
“We therefore hold that the reference … to ‘completed counseling … and mediation’ means no more than that the employee timely requested counseling and mediation, that the employee did not thwart mediation by failing to give notice of his or her claim to the employing office upon request, that the mandated time periods have expired, and that the employee received end of counseling and mediation notices from the Office,” Judge Rogers wrote.
The court sent the case back to the district court for a determination of which officers met the requirements.