In Williams v. Vilsack, plaintiff Mary Williams filed a complaint “pro se,” which means that she did so without representation by an attorney, claiming that she was discriminated against due to her race and gender, and also faced a hostile work environment.
Williams worked for the United States Department of Agriculture, which she claimed discriminated against her in the form of reprisal for a previous report of discrimination, when Williams’ employer denied her a non-competitive promotion to another position. Williams filed her complaint in 2008, and the matter went before an administrative law judge at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In 2010, the judge found that the USDA did not discriminate against Williams on the basis of reprisal, and Williams appealed the Final Order. Yet in February 2013, the EEOC Office of Federal Operations affirmed the Final Order and denied Williams’ request for reconsideration. Williams then filed a civil lawsuit in federal court in December 2013.
Williams argued that the USDA discriminated against her by (1) failing to promote her, (2) refusing to share information about a position to be filled, and (3) promoting her peers while placing a cap on her grade. The USDA filed a 12(b)(1) and (6) motion to dismiss, claiming that Williams failed to exhaust her administrative remedies, as required, before filing a lawsuit in federal court, and also that Williams failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.
The federal court disagreed that Williams failed to first exhaust her administrative remedies. She filed her complaint only after making a timely appeal of the administrative law judge’s Final Order, and only after the Office of Federal Operations affirmed the Final Order and informed Williams of her right to file a lawsuit in federal court.
However, the court agreed that Williams’s complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The main problem was that Williams raised new claims in the complaint, of race and gender discrimination and hostile work environment. Williams made no argument that these claims fell within the scope of her original EEOC complaint or were otherwise addressed by the USDA investigation. Therefore, the court agreed that Williams failed to exhaust her administrative remedies as to these specific claims.
As such, the court agreed to dismiss Williams’s claims regarding race and gender discrimination and hostile work environment, but permitted Williams’s discrimination claim based on reprisal to move forward. Williams will therefore be able to have that claim heard in court, where a jury may eventually decide whether she did suffer from discrimination.
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