Federal government employees have tight deadlines for initiating discrimination complaints. In most cases, they must do so within 45 days of the alleged discriminatory act. Miss the deadline, and the case ends.
But there are exceptions. For example, if an employee is severely incapacitated, she may be exempted from contacting an agency’s EEO office within 45 days. However, as a recent case shows, mere suffering from depression and anxiety isn’t enough to extend the deadline.
Recent case: Cathy DiPaulo worked as a rural letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service. She claimed that after being reassigned to a new route, she was treated unfairly and became stressed, anxious and depressed.
However, DiPaulo didn’t complain to the EEO office within 45 days of the last allegedly discriminatory action. When she sued, the Postal Service asked the court to toss out DiPaulo’s case.
DiPaulo argued that she had been too mentally unstable to meet the deadline. The court disagreed, noting DiPaulo had been alert enough to write long letters to post office employees complaining about various aspects of her job—she just hadn’t gone to the EEO office.
Finally, the court said she couldn’t use ignorance as an excuse because the Postal Service showed the court it had posted the 45-day requirement in a place where DiPaulo should have seen it. It dismissed her case. (DiPaulo v. Potter, No. 1:098-CV-592, MD NC, 2010)
Final note: Can you prove that you posted all required notices in the workplace? Now is a good time to review those posters. The best practice is to conduct regular posting audits, at least every time a posting requirement changes. Displaying the posters in a locked glass case ensures they won’t disappear.