Employment discrimination lawsuit against Department of Homeland Security's Secretary to remain dismissed

By Nicholas Malfitano | May 24, 2016

PHILADELPHIA – According to a federal appellate court ruling Tuesday, a former Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent’s employment discrimination lawsuit against the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will remain dismissed.

Judges Michael A. Chagares, Joseph A. Greenaway Jr. and Leonard I. Garth of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit decided in a per curiam ruling, that Christopher M. Coleman Jr.’s appeal against Jeh Charles Johnson of the DHS was denied, due to “not raising a substantial question.”

Coleman’s suit alleges he was employed by the TSA, an agency under the auspices of the DHS, as a Transportation Security Officer (TSO). In July 2013, he filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging the TSA was “harassing him because he missed work due to health conditions.”

Subsequent to the filing of his complaint, Coleman was terminated. According to the TSA, Coleman’s termination was because he suffered from major depressive disorder. Post-termination, Coleman filed a second complaint with the EEOC and a lawsuit in the District Court.

“Coleman’s complaint was ‘ostensibly’ brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), 42 U.S.C. Section 12112-12117, but the District Court also generously considered the complaint as raising a federal claim under the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. Section 794, and a state-law defamation claim,” the Third Circuit said.

The District Court granted the Johnson’s motion to dismiss and Coleman timely appealed. In the appeal, Johnson asked the Third Circuit to affirm the District Court’s judgment.

The Third Circuit found favor with the District Court decision and upheld it.

“We agree with the District Court that even accepting all of Coleman’s allegations as true, the District Court lacked jurisdiction over his claims. First, we agree that Coleman’s claims against the Secretary in his official capacity are barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity, as the DHS has not consented to suit. Second, any ADA claim against the TSA fails as government agencies are excluded as ‘employers’ under the ADA,” the Third Circuit said.

“Third, any claim under the Rehabilitation Act fails as the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA) precludes TSOs from bringing claims under that Act against the TSA. And finally, because the District Court properly dismissed all federal claims in Coleman’s complaint, the District Court properly declined to exercise supplementary jurisdiction over Coleman’s defamation claim,” the Third Circuit concluded.

The appellee is represented by Stacey L.B. Smith of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, in Philadelphia.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit case 15-3383

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:15-cv-00857

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com

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