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Lawsuit Against Guide Board Dismissed

A federal judge has dismissed a discrimination lawsuit filed against the Capitol Guide Board, finding that Congressional employees may not pursue civil rights complaints simultaneously in the court system and through administrative means.

Former guide service employee Afssar Pari Delfani, an Iranian-born American citizen, filed the lawsuit in April 2003, asserting that she had been fired because of her national origin and religious beliefs.

According to court documents, Delfani, who is Muslim, also filed a complaint in April 2003 with the Office of Compliance, the independent legislative branch agency established to implement workplace and safety laws first granted to Congressional employees under the 1995 Congressional Accountability Act.

Writing in his March 31 opinion, U.S. District Judge Richard Roberts agreed with arguments offered by the Office of the Senate Chief Counsel for Employment, which represents the Capitol Guide Service Board because its employees receive their salaries through the Senate payroll. He stated that the court did not have jurisdiction over the lawsuit because Delfani had elected to file her complaint with the Office of Compliance first.

“The language of the [Congressional Accountability Act] plainly requires an employee to make a choice between alternatives, and therefore forecloses the possibility of parallel proceedings in both administrative and adjudicative fora,” Roberts wrote, adding in his conclusion: “Because this civil action raises claims that plaintiff had elected to pursue in an administrative complaint filed with the Office of Compliance before she brought her claims here, her election deprived this court of subject matter jurisdiction over her claims.”

Although Delfani withdrew her administrative complaint in May 2003, less than a month after filing her federal lawsuit, Roberts found that the initial filing still violated federal law.

“That plaintiff’s administrative complaint was withdrawn and dismissed during the pendency of this action does not change the analysis. Subject matter jurisdiction must exist at the time the complaint is filed,” Roberts wrote. “When plaintiff filed her complaint here on April 29, 2003, she had already elected to file with the Office of Compliance her discrimination complaint. … At the outset of this civil action, plaintiff had parallel proceedings pending in both fora” in violation of the CAA.

Delfani joined the guide service in 1998, working as a tour guide in the Capitol as well as performing administrative duties.

She was fired from the guide service in September 2002.

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