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ALJ Decision Bars Subsequent Discrimination Lawsuit

Published by on February 6, 2008

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has held, in an unpublished opinion issued today, that a decision by a Virginia administrative law judge had preclusive effect, barring a discrimination and retaliation lawsuit in federal court.  A copy of the decision is here.  Davani v. Clement, No. 06-1781 (4th Cir. Feb. 6, 2008). […]

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has held, in an unpublished opinion issued today, that a decision by a Virginia administrative law judge had preclusive effect, barring a discrimination and retaliation lawsuit in federal court.  A copy of the decision is here.  Davani v. Clement, No. 06-1781 (4th Cir. Feb. 6, 2008).

The plaintiff worked for the Virginia Department of Transportation.  After being terminated in April 2003 upon receiving a third disciplinary action notice, the plaintiff challenged the discharge through the state employee grievance procedure.  That process led to a determination that his discharge was justified — a finding that was affirmed by a Virginia state court.  The plaintiff subsequently filed a lawsuit alleging that the termination was discriminatory and retaliatory.

The Fourth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiff’s complaint on the grounds that it was barred by collateral estoppel and res judicata because of the Virginia ALJ and state court findings that the termination was justified.

Judge Shedd filed a dissent.  The dissent argued that the scope of the ALJ proceeding was narrower than the subsequent federal discrimination action and, therefore, should not be precluded.  The ALJ had expressly confined the proceeding only to consideration of the merits of the plaintiff’s third and final notice.  Therefore, the dissent could not conclude that all of the issues and claims wer actually litigated in the prior action.

One significant issue was pointed out by the majority — in Virginia, “an unreviewed state administrative determination . . . is not entitled to any preclusive effect,” but such determinations do have preclusive effect “if rendered or reviewed by a court.”  (citing Rao v. County of Fairfax, 108 F.3d 42, 45 (4th Cir. 1997)).  For those who are facing or prosecuting multiple actions in Virginia, it is important to remember the potential preclusive effect of an administrative decision if it is reviewed by a state court.

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