Suing Federal Co-Workers Is Usually Waste of Time

View this article online at and visit to sign up for free news updates

Some aggrieved federal employees like to sue co-workers and supervisors in their individual capacity. In most cases this is basically a waste of time. In one such case, the district court has now dismissed six individual Housing and Urban Development employees from a case charging the agency and the individual employees with discrimination. (Jenkins v. Jackson, D.D.C. Civil Action No. 07-1012 (RBW), 3/10/08) As always, the facts are taken from the court’s opinion.

Diedra Jenkins was a Freedom of Information Act Specialist at HUD who believed her position was classified too low at the GS-11 level. She requested a desk audit, which found that her duties met the GS-12 level criteria. The agency decided to compete the GS-12 position to give other GS-11’s a chance to apply through merit promotion. Ms. Jenkins claimed that this decision constituted unlawful discrimination under Title VII. (The opinion does not specify the type of discrimination she claims to have suffered.) Jenkins sued the agency as well as eight individual agency employees in their personal capacity. (Opinion p. 2)

Six of those individual co-workers moved to dismiss the case against arguing that the only proper defendant in a Title VII employment discrimination case is the agency head. The D.C. District Court agrees and has granted the motion to dismiss. Jenkins’ suit “must be viewed as one against her employer” and her claims against individuals are merged with that claim. (p. 4) The court calls the naming of individuals in an employment discrimination suit “redundant and an inefficient use of judicial resources….[T]he employer … alone is liable for a violation of ‘Title VII.’ ” (p. 4; citation omitted)

It is not clear why the other two individually named employees did not join in the motion to dismiss. In any event, the suit is still pending against the agency itself as the proper party defendant in such cases.


© 2020 Susan McGuire Smith. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from Susan McGuire Smith.


About the Author

Susan McGuire Smith spent most of her federal legal career with NASA, serving as Chief Counsel at Marshall Space Flight Center for 14 years. Her expertise is in government contracts, ethics, and personnel law.