SCOTUS Limits Federal Employees’ Recourse

Posted on June 11, 2012 by Jean Marc Favreau

Elgin v. Department of Treasury: Employees Covered by CSRA May Not Challenge Dismissal in District Court

While not the decision in the healthcare case that we have all been awaiting, the Supreme Court issued a decision this morning that will affect federal sector employees who are eligible to challenge adverse employment actions under the Civil Service Reform Act (“CSRA”).  In Elgin v. Department of Treasury, a majority of the Justices held that a group of employees who challenged their dismissals on constitutional grounds could not challenge the termination in federal district court.

The employees were fired because they did not register with the Selective Service, which is a violation of  federal law.  When Elgin lost his case before the Merit Systems Protection Board (“MSPB”), he and the other employees filed suit in Federal District Court in Massachusetts claiming that the law was unconstitutional.  The District Court denied the claims and the employees appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for First Circuit, which ruled that the District Court did not have jurisdiction to hear the employees’ constitutional claims.  Rather, the employees should have gone through the appeals process established by the CSRA.  That law requires that employees appeal adverse MSPB decisions to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit or to petition for review by the full MSPB.

In a 6-3 decision, written by Justice Thomas, the Supreme Court agreed with the First Circuit, holding that Congress granted exclusive jurisdiction for claims such as those filed by Elgin to the Federal Circuit.  Thus, the MSPB may hear constitutional arguments challenging adverse employment actions and eligible federal employees must follow the appeals procedure set forth in the CSRA.

Justices Ginsburg and Kagan joined in Justice Alito’s dissent.

Read the decision here.