Certain claims of violations of the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 (CAA) must go through a mandatory, multi-step dispute resolution process. A Confidential Advisor is available to help employees with their claims. All employees, including district and state office staff, must follow established dispute resolution procedures in order to process their claims under the CAA. 

The steps under the CAA Reform Act, effective on June 19, 2019, include: 

Step 1:  Claim Filing  

Step 2:  Preliminary Hearing Officer Review

Step 3:  Voluntary Mediation

Step 4:  Adjudication of Disputes through Administrative Hearing or Civil Action 

Step 5:  Appeals

The failure to follow these procedures or to meet established time lines may jeopardize any claims raised under the CAA.

This is only a brief description of the dispute resolution process. The process under the CAA on or after June 19, 2019 is described below. The process before June 19, 2019 is described at the end.

Please note:

Additional representation information: Directory of Attorneys

(Please note: House employees may also contact the Office of Employee Advocacy (OOEA) at 202-225-8800 to request free representation.)

Not all rights applied by the CAA are enforced through the dispute resolution process. The General Counsel of the OCWR may bring an enforcement action when violations of safety and health, access to public services and accommodations rights for the disabled, or unfair labor practices are alleged.


Multi-step Process for Dispute Resolution
Step 1:  Claim filing

The first step in the dispute resolution process is to file a claim with the OCWR within 180 days of the alleged violation.  The OCWR may not accept any untimely filed claims.  

The claim must be in writing, under oath or affirmation, describe the facts that create the basis of the claim and the violation that is being alleged, identify the employing office alleged to have committed the violation or in which the violation is alleged to have occurred, and be in the format required by the OCWR.

When the OCWR receives the claim, the OCWR records the claim and provides the claimant with information about his or her rights under the CAA Reform Act.  The OCWR is required to transmit a copy of the claim to the head of the employing office and the employing office’s representative immediately after the claim is filed.  There are additional notification requirements for claims filed against current or former Members of Congress.

Covered employees may contact the OCWR before filing a claim to seek information about their rights and the procedures under the CAA Reform Act. As stated above, the OCWR offers, at no cost to covered employees, confidential advising services to provide information, guidance, and assistance with drafting claims.

Step 2:  Preliminary Hearing Officer Review

A Preliminary Hearing Officer (PHO) must conduct a preliminary review of claims filed by covered employees as a condition precedent to proceeding to a hearing.  During the preliminary review, the PHO assesses the following:

  1. Whether the claimant is a covered employee authorized to obtain relief relating to the claim;
  2. Whether the office at issue is an employing office;
  3. Whether the individual filing the claim has met the applicable deadlines for filing the claim;
  4. The identification of factual and legal issues involved in the claim;
  5. The specific relief sought by the individual;
  6. Whether, on the basis of the assessments made under paragraphs (1) through (5), the individual filing the claim is a covered employee who has stated a claim for which, if the allegations contained in the claim are true, relief may be granted under the CAA Reform Act; and
  7. The potential for settling the claim without a formal hearing as provided under section 405 of the CAA or a civil action as provided under section 408 of the CAA.

After conducting the preliminary review, the PHO will issue a report generally within thirty (30) days of the date the claim was filed. The report must include a determination  on whether the claimant is a covered employee who has stated a claim for which relief may be granted under the CAA Reform Act.  The report must also be submitted to the House or Senate ethics committee in the case of a claim against a Member of the House of Representatives or a Senator for:

  • Unlawful harassment in violation of sections 201(a) or 206(a) of the CAA; or
  • Unlawful intimidation, reprisal, or discrimination under section 207 of the CAA which were taken against a covered employee because of a claim alleging unlawful harassment in violation of sections 201(a) or 206(a) of the CAA.

If the PHO determines that the claimant is not a covered employee or has not stated a claim for which relief may be granted, the claimant may not obtain a formal hearing on the claim and the PHO must notify the claimant and the OCWR Executive Director (ED) that the claimant may file a civil action.

If an employee files a civil action before the PHO concludes his or her review, then this terminates the preliminary review and administrative processing. 

Step 3:  Voluntary Mediation

Mediation is voluntary, may be initiated by any party, and may only proceed if all parties agree.  When the OCWR receives a claim, it must notify the covered employee about the mediation process and applicable deadlines, and must similarly provide such notice to the employing office upon transmitting the claim to the office.  Additionally, the parties must be separated during mediation at the request of any party.

Applicable time periods:

  • Mediation may be requested at any time during the period beginning on the day the covered employee or employing office receive notice of the process and the employing office receives notice of the claim, and ending on the date when either the Merit Hearing Officer (MHO) issues a final written decision or the covered employee files a civil action.
  • The mediation period lasts for thirty (30) days, beginning on the day when the non-requesting party agrees to mediate, and may be extended an additional 30 days.
  • Any deadlines related to claims being mediated that have not passed by the first (1st) day of mediation are stayed during mediation.

Step 4:  Adjudication of Disputes through Administrative Hearing or Civil Action

Administrative Hearing

Covered employees may only proceed to an administrative hearing if the PHO conducting the preliminary review determines that they have stated a cognizable claim.  Such claimants then must submit a hearing request to the ED within ten (10) days after the the preliminary review report is issued.

When a hearing is requested, the ED then appoints an independent MHO, who cannot be the same individual who conducted the preliminary review.  This MHO must commence a hearing within ninety (90) days of the hearing request, unless the parties mutually agree to an additional thirty (30) day extension.

Further, if the claim asserts facts that would, if sustained, subject a Member of the House of Representatives (including a Delegate or Resident Commissioner to Congress) or a Senator to the reimbursement provisions, the Member of Congress has the right to intervene and participate in proceedings.

District Court Filing

A covered employee’s options for filing in district court are as follows:

  • After an employee has filed a timely claim with the OCWR, the employee may file a civil action in federal district court within a seventy (70) day period beginning on the date the employee files the OCWR claim.
  • However, the employee may not file a civil action if he or she has already requested an administrative hearing through the OCWR.
  • If an employee files a civil action while the PHO is conducting the preliminary review of that employee’s claim, the review terminates immediately upon the filing of the civil action and the PHO has no further involvement.
  • An employee also may wait until the PHO concludes the preliminary review before deciding whether to file in district court.  If the PHO determines that the employee has not stated a claim for which relief may be granted and issues a written notice stating that the employee has a right to file a civil action, then the time period for filing in district court resets, and the employee has ninety (90) days from his or her  receipt of the PHO’s notice to file a civil action.

 You must first file a claim with the OCWR before you may file a civil action in federal district court.

Step 5:  Appeals

If, after an administrative hearing, any party is dissatisfied with the final decision of the MHO, that party may ask the OCWR’s Board of Directors to review the MHO’s decision. A petition for review by the OCWR Board must be made within thirty (30) days of the time the MHO’s decision is entered into the records of the OCWR.  After review, the Board will issue a written decision on the case along with its reasoning for the decision.  If the employee or the employer is dissatisfied with the Board’s ruling, the decision may be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit for further review.  The Board typically publishes its final decisions.

If the case proceeds to a civil suit, appeals of federal district court decisions will proceed under the rules that normally apply to appeals in federal court; usually, this means an appeal to the appropriate U.S. Court of Appeals.

 

Awards, Penalties, and Attorney’s Fees

Depending on the law and the facts in the case, the MHO, the OCWR Board, or a Federal court judge may order monetary awards and other appropriate remedies for the prevailing party, such as reinstatement, promotion, or back pay.  Attorney’s fees, expert fees, and certain other costs also may be awarded.  No civil penalties or punitive damages may be awarded for any claims under the CAA.

 

Representation

At any time during the ADR process, an employee may designate a representative (at the option and expense of the employee), such as an attorney, to represent him or her in the matter. The services of a Confidential Advisor may not be provided to an employee who is represented by an attorney, except to provide general assistance regarding the Act and the OCWR. 

 

MULTI-STEP PROCESS FOR DISPUTE RESOLUTION PRIOR TO JUNE 19, 2019

Step 1: The first step in the dispute resolution process is to file a written request for counseling with the OCWR. The CAA imposes a strict time period for asserting a claim of a workplace rights violation. A request for counseling must be made within 180 days after the date of the alleged violation. The counseling period normally lasts for 30 days.

During the counseling period, an OCWR counselor will discuss an employee’s concerns and inform the employee of his or her rights under the CAA. Discussions between the employee and the OCWR counselor during the counseling period are strictly confidential. The counselor does not serve as a representative or advocate, only as a guide to help an individual understand how the law works and to clarify facts and issues. A covered employee may (at his or her expense) retain representation, such as an attorney, at any time during the dispute resolution process.

Step 2: If an employee chooses to continue with the claim after the counseling period, the employee must make a written request for mediation with the OCWR within 15 days of receiving notification of the completion of the counseling period. Mediation lasts for 30 days unless both parties agree to request an extension of time, and the OCWR approves the extension.

During confidential mediation, the OCWR appoints one or more neutral mediators who will meet with the parties to the dispute to seek a mutually acceptable solution to the problem, such as a negotiated settlement. Mediation permits the parties to resolve a dispute promptly and avoid a formal adversarial complaint process. Mediation allows the issues and options to be explored in a strictly confidential environment. The mediator never shares information from one party with another, unless given express permission to do so. The mediator has no authority to impose a solution on the parties. Resolution is voluntary, and the terms of agreement are determined by the parties, subject to approval by the Executive Director of the OCWR.

Step 3: If mediation fails to resolve the dispute, the employee may either file an administrative complaint and proceed with a confidential administrative hearing at the OCWR, or file a civil suit in federal district court. Once a forum is selected, an employee may not seek to file a complaint in the other forum. Either course of action must be initiated within 90 days (but no sooner than 30 days) of the last day of mediation.

If the employee chooses to pursue an administrative hearing after mediation, the employee must file a written complaint with the OCWR. A copy of the complaint will be served on the employing office, which has 15 days to respond. An independent hearing officer is assigned to conduct the hearing to determine the facts and may issue subpoenas, order witness testimony, and require information from the parties. An administrative hearing normally begins within 60 days after a complaint is filed (but no later than 90 days), and the hearing officer will issue a written decision no later than 90 days after the hearing’s conclusion. If the employee chooses to proceed with a civil suit after mediation, the suit and any appeals will proceed under the rules that normally apply to actions in federal court. Most cases filed in federal court are public. Employees who work on Capitol Hill who choose to file a civil suit after mediation normally do so with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. If the employee works outside of the District of Columbia, the employee may choose to file suit in the U.S. District Court where the employee works.

Step 4: After an administrative hearing, if either the employee or the employer is dissatisfied with the final decision of the hearing officer, a request may be made to have the hearing officer’s decision reviewed by the Board of Directors of the OCWR. A petition for review by the Board of Directors must be made within 30 days of the time the hearing officer’s decision is entered into the records of the OCWR. After review, the Board will issue a written decision on the case along with its reasoning for the decision. If the employee or the employer is dissatisfied with the Board of Directors’ ruling, the decision may be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit for further review. The Board typically publishes its final decisions.

If the case proceeds to a civil suit, appeals of federal district court decisions will proceed under the rules that normally apply to appeals in Federal court, usually this means an appeal to the appropriate U.S. Court of Appeals.