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Incapacity doesn’t extend time to contact EEO counselor

by on
in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Human Resources

Federal employees are required to contact their agency’s Equal Employment Opportunity counsel within 45 days of experiencing alleged discrimination or lose the right to sue for discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. But the regulation that required that initial contact also provided for a time extension if circumstances beyond an employee’s control prevented her from contacting the counselor.

Fortunately, that standard is high, and most employees—even those with serious problems—will be bound by the 45-day limit. As the following case shows, it takes more than a blanket “I was depressed” to win an extension.

Bottom line: If the federal employee hasn’t called the EEO counselor within 45 days, the matter will probably remain closed.

Recent case:
Vicky Jessie worked as a letter carrier until she injured her knees and went on workers’ compensation. Over the next few years, the post office offered her several light-duty positions for which she claimed to be unqualified due to her continuing medical problems. Jessie filed workers’ comp appeals to avoid taking the light-duty positions.

Jessie eventually applied for a disability retirement. Then, when her workers’ comp benefits were cut, she finally went to the EEO office and complained about sex, race and disability discrimination.

Her case was dismissed because she had missed the deadline. She appealed, arguing that she had been depressed and so unable to look out for her own interests that she missed the deadline.

The court did not buy her argument. It said only those who are incapable of handling their ordinary affairs qualify. At the relevant time, Jessie took college courses. That counted against her, as did the fact that she had handled all her own appeals and disability retirement applications. (Jessie v. Potter, No. 07-1050, 8th Cir., 2008)

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