Administrative Remedies for Government Sexual Harassment in Maryland

December 18, 2017
The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford

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Sexual harassment remains a serious problem in many federal and state government workplaces. Harassment is not simply unprofessional conduct. It is a recognized and prohibited form of sex discrimination, and it is important to take immediate action if you are a victim.

Judge Dismisses Federal Government Employee’s Claim As a Result of Missing 45-Day Deadline

One thing to keep in mind is that when it comes to sexual harassment and similar employment discrimination complaints, you cannot simply take your employer to court. There are certain legal formalities that must be observed. This is why your first call should be to a qualified Baltimore sexual harassment attorney who can advise you on how the law works with respect to your particular employment situation.

For instance, if you work for a government agency you typically must pursue “administrative remedies” against any alleged sexual harassment or discrimination before a court can hear your case. Unlike many private employers in the Baltimore area, federal and state agencies are required to have detailed internal grievance procedures available for employees. In the federal government, an employee must first seek relief through his or her agency’s internal process. If that proves unsuccessful, the employee can then ask the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) to intervene. Only after exhausting these remedies can the employee proceed to sue for damages.

While this may sound convoluted and unfair to the employee, this internal grievance process is not optional. Consider this recent sexual harassment case brought by a former federal employee in the Baltimore office of the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”). The plaintiff said that during her time as an FAA inspector, she routinely suffered from the “frat house culture” of her “male-dominated workplace.” She not only alleged physical molestation, but also retaliation when she attempted to report the abuse.

Of critical note here, the plaintiff said her supervisors refused to renew her security badge as an act of retaliation. More than 60 days after this action, the plaintiff contacted the FAA’s EEO counselor. The EEO counselor is the designated agency official responsible for managing the internal discrimination grievance process. By law, an employee must contact the EEO counselor within 45 days “after an alleged discriminatory action” has occurred.

Ultimately the plaintiff’s delay in reporting her discrimination cost her dearly. A federal judge dismissed the plaintiff’s employment discrimination lawsuit because she failed to timely make her initial contact with the EEO counselor during the 45-day window and thus failed to “exhaust her administrative remedies” before filing a lawsuit. As the judge explained, the threshold is actually rather low: “Whatever action that occurred within 45 days of seeking out an EEO counselor must be something that could be part of a hostile work environment claim.” In other words, not all the discrimination need occur within the 45-day window, but at least one illegal act must have.

The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford, L.L.C. Can Help Federal and State Government Employees Fight Sexual Harassment

Many well-supported cases of sex discrimination and sexual harassment go unheard because of an employee’s honest misunderstanding of legal deadlines to report activity. Do not put yourself in this situation. If you have any reason to suspect there is discrimination in your workplace, call the Law Firm of J.W. Stafford, L.L.C. at 410-514-6099 or contact us online to schedule a confidential consultation right away.

(image courtesy of Tristan Colangelo)