Unprofessional, Uncivil and Somewhat Boorish

According to the appeals court, “somewhat boorish” actions of supervisors at Merit Systems Protection Board were the “ordinary tribulations of the workplace,” and did not add up to an actionable hostile work environment.

An appeals court handed bad news to an employee of the Merit Systems Protection Board, agreeing with the lower court that her claims did not add up to race or sex discrimination. (Brooks v. Grundmann, CADC No. 12-5171 (4/15/14))

Ms. Brooks unsuccessfully attempted to persuade a district court that her discrimination claim against the MSPB should go to trial. Instead the agency won its motion for summary judgment.

The appeals court has now upheld that ruling in favor of the agency. While not entirely complimentary of the actions of MSPB officials, the court opines that it takes something much worse than “the ordinary tribulations of the workplace,” (p. 8) to make out a case of hostile environment discrimination: “We conclude that, while the supervisors’ actions may have been unprofessional, uncivil and somewhat boorish, they did not constitute an adequate factual basis for the Title VII claims presented here.” (Opinion p. 2)

The court was obviously struck by the irony of a grievance being filed against the MSPB—“the entity charged with addressing the grievances of federal workers…”– by one of its own employees, calling it a “classic (and perhaps ironic) instance of quis custodiet ipsos custodes.” If you have to know what that means, try an online translator. (Opinion p. 2)

Nevertheless, MSPB prevails on this one.

For more on the specific facts, we include the full opinion.

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.