Dispute Resolution Process

The Congressional Accountability Act (CAA) provides for a mandatory dispute resolution process of counseling and mediation for the settling of disputes before disputes can proceed to an administrative hearing or civil action. If the parties involved are not able to resolve their disputes through counseling and mediation, then an employee may either pursue a non-judicial administrative hearing process with the Office of Compliance (OOC) or file suit in United States District Court. Generally, the administrative hearing process offers speedier resolution and greater confidentiality than a Federal civil suit while offering the same remedies that a court can provide.

The dispute resolution process is a multi-step process (See Chart Below).

Step 1:  Counseling

Step 2:  Mediation

Step 3:  Administrative Hearing or Civil Action

Step 4:  Appeals

All employees, including district office staff, must follow established dispute resolution procedures in order to process their claims under the CAA.  Only after an employee has engaged in the required counseling and mediation can a remedy be granted.  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. Additional information is available in the CAA Handbook. For complete information on the rights, procedures, and remedies established by the CAA, refer to the Congressional Accountability Act (2 U.S.C. 1301 et seq.) and the OOC’s Procedural Rules.

Certain rights applied by the CAA are not enforced through the dispute resolution process. The General Counsel of the OOC 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:  Counseling

The first step in the dispute resolution process is to file a written request for counseling with the OOC.  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 OOC counselor will discuss an employee’s concerns and inform the employee of his or her rights under the law. The counselor does not serve as a representative or advocate, only as an advisor to help an individual understand how the law works and to clarify facts and issues. A covered employee may retain representation at any time during the dispute resolution process.

The Executive Director of the OOC has authority to recommend that employees of the Architect of the Capitol and Capitol Police use their office’s own internal grievance process before first utilizing the CAA’s dispute resolution procedures. If so, this will not count against the time limits available for counseling and mediation with the OOC.

Step 2:  Mediation

If an employee chooses to continue with a claim after the counseling period, the next step is to request mediation with the OOC. Mediation must be requested within 15 days of receiving notification of the completion of the counseling period and lasts for 30 days, unless both parties request an extension of time.

During mediation, the OOC appoints one or more neutral mediators – professionals at dispute resolution – who will meet with the parties to the dispute to seek a solution to the problem that is acceptable to both parties. The goal of mediation is a voluntary resolution acceptable to all. Mediated settlements are always voluntary and can never be imposed by the mediator.

Mediation is intended to provide a confidential, informal means of settling disputes. Mediation permits both employees and their employing office to come together with a neutral third party to attempt to resolve a dispute under mutually acceptable terms. Mediation also permits the parties to resolve a dispute promptly and avoid a formal adversarial complaint process. The advantage of a mediated settlement is that it allows both parties to a dispute to take an active role in reaching a settlement rather than having a judgment imposed upon them by a hearing officer or judge.

Step 3:  Administrative Hearing or Civil Action

If mediation fails to resolve a complaint, an employee may either proceed with an administrative hearing or file suit in Federal district court. Either course of action must be initiated within 90 days (but no sooner than 30 days) from the end of the period of mediation.

Administrative Hearing.  If an employee chooses to pursue an administrative hearing after mediation, a formal complaint must be filed with the OOC in writing. A copy of the complaint will be served on the employee’s 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 and require information from the parties involved. An administrative hearing normally begins within 60 days after a complaint is filed, and the hearing officer will issue a written decision no later than 90 days after the hearing’s conclusion.

Civil Action.  If an employee chooses to proceed with a civil action after mediation, the suit will proceed under the rules that normally apply to actions in Federal court. Employees who work on Capitol Hill who choose to file a civil suit after mediation normally must do so with the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. Employees who work outside of the District of Columbia may choose to file suit in the United States District Court where they work.

Step 4:  Appeals

Appeal of Administrative Decision.  If either the employee or employing office 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 OOC. A request 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 OOC. After reviewing the arguments from both sides in a dispute, the Board of Directors will issue a written decision on the case along with its reasoning for the decision.

If either the employee or employing office is dissatisfied with the outcome of the appeal to the Board of Directors, the decision may be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit for further review.

Appeal of U.S. District Court Decision.  If the case proceeded to a civil action, appeals of U.S. District Court decisions will proceed under the rules that normally apply to appeals in Federal court.

Dispute Resolutions Process for Most ClaimsDispute Resolution Process for Most Claims