Way clear for more Hill worker grievances

A decision made by the Office of Compliance (OoC) board of directors last month has given congressional employees more rights when filing intimidation and adverse-action claims against their employing offices.

In Sherry M. Britton v. the Office of the Architect of the Capitol, the board further defined and developed a standard for cases that fall under Section 207 of the Congressional Accountability Act.

The new standard set by the board does not require complainants to have formal actions against them to plead retaliation cases, giving congressional employees a better opportunity to bring adverse-action charges.

Section 207 states: “It shall be unlawful to intimidate, take reprisal against, or otherwise discriminate against any covered employee … because the covered employee has initiated proceedings” against the employing office. In the past, a formal action such as firing or a demotion needed to have occurred for an employee to file any additional claims.

The decision also establishes a standard for reviews of retaliation, a measure that had not been explicitly defined in the past. The OoC board and hearing officers will now apply the Title 7 standard during Section 207 cases forcing both employee and employer to meet the evidentiary standards of an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission hearing.

Title 7 of the 1964 Civil Rights Act stipulates that all personnel functions “must be free from discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”

In a section-by-section review of the Congressional Accountability Act in 1995, Sens. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) found that Section 207 provided “one uniform remedy for intimidation and reprisal taken against covered employees” and entered their analysis into the Congressional Record. However, the board was not required to follow any specific guide when it came to Section 207 cases.

The decision defining these terms reverses a ruling against Sherry Britton, a supply technician in the furniture division of the Architect of the Capitol’s Office. According to the OoC case brief, in her initial case filed in May 2001, Britton complained that the architect of the Capitol had violated a section of the Congressional Accountability Act when she was disciplined after leaving work to attend to a family emergency. While the actions in that case were pending, Britton asked for 3.3 hours without pay because of a disability. The architect’s office did not approve the time off and instead put her “in an AWOL disciplinary status.” She was later issued an official reprimand for the 3.3 hours.

Britton then filed an amended complaint accusing the architect’s office of taking “adverse action” against her. After her complaint and her amended complaint were filed, the architect’s office filed a “motion to dismiss the complaint with prejudice” and asserted that Britton failed to articulate a “prima facie” or “at first sight” case of retaliation. Britton’s case was initially dismissed.

According to the Office of Compliance website, the Congressional Accountability Act “applies twelve civil rights, labor, and workplace safety laws to Congress and certain Legislative Branch agencies.”

A spokesperson for the Architect of the Capitol’s Office declined to comment on personnel matters.