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A former EEOC judge's lawsuit alleging discrimination and retaliation by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission can move forward, the Ninth Circuit ruled Monday.
Mary Bullock served as an administrative law judge with the EEOC from 1999 to 2007, The Wall Street Journal reports. EEOC judges, of course, hear complaints alleging violations of federal employment-discrimination laws.
But in an ironic twist, Bullock claims the EEOC discriminated against her because of her disability, and then unlawfully retaliated against her for filing a complaint.
Mary Bullock suffers from multiple sclerosis and systemic lupus. The ex-EEOC judge's lawsuit claims the agency refused to accommodate her disability, for example by not letting her work from home, The Journal reports.
Bullock's EEOC bosses also forced her to meet tighter deadlines than non-disabled colleagues, and denied her opportunity to be promoted, her suit claims, according to The Journal.
Pursuant to EEOC policy, Bullock first filed internal complaints in 2003. At a hearing, a contract EEOC judge found Bullock was not technically "disabled" because she could perform her job without accommodation, the Ninth Circuit explained in its opinion. But the judge also found the EEOC had indeed retaliated against Bullock.
Bullock appealed the decision, but then withdrew the appeal and filed her civil lawsuit instead. A district court dismissed the lawsuit in 2010, finding Bullock hadn't exhausted her administrative remedies -- namely, the administrative appeal that she'd withdrawn.
The Ninth Circuit, however, reversed that decision, finding that Bullock's appeal was optional, and played no role in the exhaustion of remedies. "The employee's lawsuit may proceed even though the employee filed and then withdrew an administrative appeal," the Ninth Circuit's opinion stated.
The ex-EEOC judge's lawsuit alleging discrimination now heads back to the district court. Neither Mary Bullock's lawyer nor an EEOC spokeswoman returned The Journal's requests for comment.