The attorneys at Lopez & Wu admire federal employees for their dedication and commitment to public service. Although we are based in the Washington, D.C., area, we represent federal employees around the world. Regardless or whether you are a teacher in Korea working for the Department of Defense Education Activity or a State Department employee stationed in Sri Lanka, you have the same rights as your domestic colleagues. We will help you.
In spite of the additional protections federal employees enjoy, you need legal representation to help guide you through the complicated federal administrative process. Federal agencies establish EEO offices, Civil Rights Offices, and Inspectors General, but they are not your advocates. It is important for your case to obtain legal representation as early as possible in the process before you waive rights or miss opportunities to defend yourself. Also, the earlier you obtain representation, the faster we can help you obtain a favorable result through settlement or negotiation.
We have over a 10 years of combined experience in representing federal employees in discrimination, retaliation, whistleblower, and adverse action cases. With our specialized expertise in federal employment cases, we will help you enforce your workplace rights. Through the years, we have become familiar with administrative judges at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Merit Systems Protection Board and many agency representatives. With this knowledge, we are able to develop negotiation and trial strategies that will result in the best outcome for your case.
Discrimination by a Federal Agency
How am I protected from discrimination?
Title VII, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Equal Pay Act, and the Rehabilitation Act protect employees or job applicants from discrimination due to:
Disability or perceived disability
Participation in protected EEO activity
When can I contact my agency about discrimination?
If you have suffered from an adverse employment action or a discriminatory act by an agency, such as:
Failure to hire or promote
Denial of an award
Denial or training
Received unequal pay
Hostile work environment
Denial or a reasonable accommodation
On the basis of prohibited discriminatory factors, you must follow agency procedures and contact the EEO office to file an informal complaint.
What happens after I contact the EEO office about discrimination?
An EEO counselor will contact you and you will begin informal EEO counseling. It is important for you to have legal representation at this early stage because you want to ensure that you communicate important facts about your case to the EEO office. Also, although you are only at the beginning of the process, you may be able to resolve your case against the agency using alternative dispute resolution or mediation. When you have legal representation, we can advise you during the mediation and assist you in making an informed decision concerning settlement.
If you cannot settle your case, the EEO counselor will provide you information on how to file a formal complaint of discrimination against the agency. When you file a formal complaint, you are identifying the specific issues and incidents that give rise to your claim of discrimination. The attorneys at Lopez & Wu will assist you in drafting a concise description of the discrimination you suffered.
What happens after I file a formal complaint of discrimination?
If the agency accepts your formal complaint of discrimination, an EEO investigator will contact you to gather facts concerning your case. This is yet another crucial stage of the complaint process when you will need legal representation. The attorneys of Lopez & Wu, LLC, have guided over 100 clients through EEO investigations. The results of an investigation will contain important facts and documents that are admissible at an EEOC administrative hearing or in federal trial courts. We will make sure that the EEO investigator conducts a thorough investigation and you are given the opportunity to tell your side of the story. At the conclusion of the EEO investigation, you can choose to have your case heard in front of an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission administrative judge or a federal trial judge.
What happens after I request a hearing with an administrative judge or go to federal court?
Whether you request a hearing with an EEOC administrative judge or are going to federal court, it is imperative that you obtain legal representation. In particular, at the EEOC, when an administrative judge has been assigned to your case, the hearing process starts and litigation begins immediately. If you wait until after the EEOC assigns an administrative judge to obtain an attorney, it could have a negative impact on your case. We cannot stress enough the importance of retaining a lawyer early in the EEO process. You will need as much leverage as you can muster when fighting for your civil rights. EEOC administrative judges have many cases to decide and your case can easily get lost in the shuffle. With our representation, you will receive crucial strategic advice that will help you obtain outstanding results.
Removals, Suspensions, Demotions, and Other Adverse Actions by the Agency
My agency gave me a proposed removal or suspension, what are my rights?
Depending on your status as a federal employee, if your agency proposes your removal, a suspension of 14-days or more, a reduction in grade and pay, or a furlough of 30 days or less, the agency must follow rules and procedures before imposing the adverse action against you.
How can you help and when should I seek legal representation?
You will receive notice of the adverse action in the form of a proposal letter. The proposal will describe the charges against you, the facts supporting the charges, and your right to provide an oral and written reply to the charges. The letter will allow you a limited amount of time for you to review documents supporting the proposed action. The agency will also identify the date when you will be given the opportunity to present an oral and written reply.
The attorneys at Lopez & Wu have represented many federal employees through the reply process. Having legal representation as soon as you receive the proposal letter will give you the best chance at having the agency rescind the proposed discipline or impose a lesser form of discipline. A lawyer will know the type of evidence to request from the agency prior to the oral and written replies. With this information, an attorney will present a compelling an oral reply and draft an persuasive written reply to the deciding official.
Why give an oral and written reply when I believe that the agency has already made-up its mind to discipline me?
Do not underestimate the effect an oral reply can have on a deciding official. During the oral reply, you are no longer a simply a subordinate who allegedly committed the charges in the proposal letter. We can help you make a presentation that emphasizes your service and dedication to the agency. We can convince the deciding official that the charges are unfounded and that you deserve another chance.
Finally, you must identify affirmative defenses to the charges at the oral reply stage. Otherwise, you may be deemed to have waived those defenses if you appeal the matter to the Merit Systems Protection Board.
What happens if the deciding official imposes a suspension over 14 days, a reduction in pay, a demotion, or a removal?
30 days after the effective date of the adverse action, you must file an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board or MSPB. At the MSPB, administrative judge will decide whether to sustain the adverse action, reverse the adverse action, or impose a lesser form of discipline.
When the MSPB acknowledges receipt of your appeal, the hearing or litigation process progresses very quickly. You will need legal representation to navigate the complicated procedure at the MSPB. At Lopez & Wu, we have the experience to represent you at MSPB hearings, thus giving you the best chance of retaining your job or keeping your official personnel file free of adverse actions.
Performance Related Discipline
I’ve been placed on a Performance Improvement Plan (“PIP”), what should I do?
If your supervisor has deemed your performance to have been Unacceptable in one or more critical job elements, the agency must notify you and give you the opportunity to improve by presenting you with a PIP. The PIP identifies areas of your work that must improve and also ways to improve performance. If your performance remains Unacceptable at the end of the PIP, your agency may demote you or remove you.
When your agency places you on a PIP, both you and your supervisor have responsibilities. Your supervisor must structure assignments, instruction, and feedback to help you meet the Fully Successful performance level.
If the PIP gives me advice on how to improve, why do I need legal assistance?
It is important to consult an attorney with experience in federal sector law to help you understand the requirements of the PIP and how to document your improvement during the PIP. Additionally, your supervisor has responsibilities during the PIP; therefore, we can ensure that the agency is fulfilling its obligations to help you improve and not simply “go through the motions.” We can assist in providing you with advice on how to communicate with your supervisor during the PIP and how to keep a written record of your performance.
What if the agency decides that I didn’t improve after the PIP?
If you improve after the PIP, the agency will not demote or remove you. However, if your performance does not rise above Unacceptable, the agency can propose a demotion or removal.
If your agency proposes your demotion or removal, you will be given the opportunity to present and oral and written reply to a deciding official. This is the point when you can present your case, along with all the evidence you’ve been gathering, that your performance has improved, to the deciding official.
If the deciding official sustains the demotion or removal, the agency must give you notice on how to file an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board.
My agency has proposed my removal for performance, but I haven’t received a PIP. Can the agency do this?
Yes. The agency may propose a demotion or removal without using a PIP if they decide to use procedures for alleged misconduct. For the agency to succeed in demoting or removing you without a PIP, they must satisfy a higher standard of proof. Additionally, the penalty of demotion or removal may be reduced by the deciding official or the Merit Systems Protection Board.
If you are subject to an adverse action for performance, you should seek legal representation to guide you through the process, whether the agency gives you a PIP or not. Beyond identifying the process used by the agency to discipline you, we can help you during the PIP, for the oral and written replies, and appeals to the MSPB.