By Jackie Kucinich - 07/06/05 12:00 AM EDT
The Office of Compliance board of directors last week dismissed an ex-staffer’s complaint of race and sex discrimination against the office of Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas).
The complaint was dismissed June 29 based on the failure of Elizabeth Perez, the former staffer who filed the complaint, to request counseling in a timely manner regarding her termination from the Houston office of Jackson Lee, the ranking Democrat on the House Administration Committee in 2003. The board also listed Perez’s failure to file the complaint in a timely manner and noted the absence of any grounds to extend the time requirements.
In previous opinions, extensions of the Congressional Accountability Act deadline were allowed because those who filed complaints had been “induced or tricked by their adversaries’ misconduct” into missing the deadline, according to the decision. The board noted that since the case came to it on “procedural and jurisdictional grounds” it had no opinion on the “merit or lack of merit of the underlying claims.”
Perez does not have the option of appealing the board’s decision, but she could take her case to federal court.
“The claim was filed internally,” said Perez’s attorney, John Cunningham. “That was the reason for the delay. … No one knew to file the claim with the Office of Compliance.”
Cunningham said he had not yet seen the board’s decision and did not know whether Perez would appeal. Citing a gag order on the case, Cunningham would not discuss the exact circumstances of Perez’s firing or why she charged the office with race and sex discrimination.
According to the text of the decision, in September 2003 Perez was fired from her position as an assistant in Jackson Lee’s district office. Her request for counseling was faxed to the Office of Compliance, or OoC, on June 14, 2004, 83 days after a deadline set by the law.
Under the law, counseling requests must be filed no later than 180 days after an alleged violation. Her administrative complaint was filed eight days later than the 90-day deadline after the end of mediation stipulated by the law. Mediation is required to file an administrative complaint or an action in district court, according to the case brief.
A spokesperson for Jackson Lee declined to comment and referred inquires to Gloria Lett, the lawyer handling the case. Because the decision can be appealed, Lett also declined to comment.
In her complaint against the office, Perez alleged that the office discriminated against her on the basis of race and sex, violating Section 201 of the Congressional Accountability Act. According to the case brief, in April 2004 Perez filed a punitive charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and with the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).
LULAC did not return calls for comment.
According to the Office of Compliance website, the act “applies twelve civil rights, labor, and workplace safety laws to Congress and certain Legislative Branch agencies.”