Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law

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In 1998, Do a government employee since 1990, was hired by HUD’s Information Systems Audit Division. She became Division Director. In 2006, Asuncion, then working as a Justice Department auditor, applied for a GS-11 position in Do’s Division. On her resume and Questionnaire, Asuncion claimed she had a college degree in accounting. A pre-employment investigation revealed that Asuncion did not have that degree. Asuncion explained that she had completed the required coursework but needed to take one additional course to raise her GPA. Asuncion claimed good-faith mistake and promised to secure her degree. After conferring with her supervisor, Do approved Asuncion’s hiring. Asuncion was eventually promoted. In 2009, Do posted two GS-14 auditor positions. Human resources flagged Asuncion “as a qualified candidate.” Do selected Asuncion, knowing that Asuncion still did not have an accounting degree. Do later was advised that Asuncion could continue as an auditor but must obtain her degree. Asuncion resigned in 2016. HUD demoted Do to Nonsupervisory Senior Auditor and suspended her for 14 days. The Federal Circuit reversed. Do’s due process rights were violated; the Board relied on a new ground to sustain the discipline. Do's notice alleged a single charge of “negligence of duty” in hiring and promoting Asuncion. The Board’s decision concluded that Do negligently failed to investigate whether Asuncion met alternative requirements. That alternative theory appears nowhere in the notice or in the deciding official’s decision. View "Do v. Department of Housing and Urban Development" on Justia Law

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During World War II, the Hanford Nuclear Reservation was established by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. After the war, Hanford continued in use, operated by contractors. Each time the work was transferred to another contractor, the employees that performed the work would stay the same, typically with the same pay and benefits. The Hanford Multi-Employer Pension Plan (MEPP) was established in 1987 as a contract between “Employers,” defined as named contractors, and “Employees.” The government is not a party to the MEPP but may not be amended without government approval. In 1996, some employees accepted employment with a Hanford subcontractor, Lockheed, and were informed that, upon their retirement, they would not receive retirement benefits that were previously afforded under the MEPP. They were subsequently told that they would remain in the MEPP but that, instead of calculating their pension benefits based on their total years in service, their benefits would be calculated using the highest five-year salary, and that they could not challenge the change until they retired. This became a MEPP amendment. In 2016, former Lockheed employees sued the government, alleging that an implied contract was breached when they did not receive benefits based on their total years in service. The Federal Circuit held that the former employees did not prove that an implied-in-fact contract existed. The government funds Lockheed and others to manage Hanford, but there is no evidence that the government intended to be contractually obligated to their employees; there was no mutuality of intent. View "Turping v. United States" on Justia Law

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For 33 years, Jenkins worked for the Army, finally as a Supervisory Army Community Services Division Chief. In 2010-2012, Jenkins continually failed performance reviews and once served a suspension for submitting an Information Paper to a higher command without routing and gaining required approval through his first-level supervisor. Jenkins was put on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). After notifying Jenkins that he failed his PIP, his supervisor asked Jenkins whether he would move to a non-supervisory position at the same grade and pay level, Jenkins refused. Jenkins’s first-level supervisor proposed his removal for unacceptable performance. After receiving notice, but before he was removed, Jenkins sent his first-level supervisor an email, stating that “[e]ffective 31 March 2012 I will retire.” Jenkins submitted responses challenging his removal; on March 21, the Army issued a Final Removal Decision effective April 1, 2012. That same day, it issued a Cancellation of Removal, conditioned on Jenkins retiring effective March 31. Jenkins then submitted Standard Form-50, stating “voluntary retirement” effective 31 March 2012 as his reason for resignation. Jenkins later appealed to the Merit Systems Protection Board alleging that his retirement was involuntary. The Federal Circuit affirmed the Board’s dismissal for lack of jurisdiction, reasoning that the Army had rescinded the removal and nothing indicated Jenkins sought to withdraw his retirement before the effective removal date; Jenkins failed to make a non-frivolous claim. View "Jenkins v. Merit Systems Protection Board" on Justia Law

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Following a positive drug test, DHS removed Hansen from his position as an Information Technology Specialist for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. After failing the drug test, Hansen had submitted a letter to the agency, claiming that he had unknowingly consumed pot brownies prepared by a friend-of-a-friend’s neighbor, a stranger to him, at a barbeque. The Merit Systems Protection Board affirmed. Hansen appealed, arguing that the Board improperly assigned him the burden of proving that he inadvertently ingested marijuana, that it erred in finding his position was subject to random drug testing, and that even if it was subject to such testing, he lacked required notice of that fact. The Federal Circuit affirmed, holding that intent is not an element of the charged conduct and that the Board properly required Hansen to introduce rebuttal evidence to counter the government’s showing of nexus and choice of penalty. Substantial evidence supports the Board’s finding that Hansen’s position was designated for random drug testing. View "Hansen v. Department of Homeland Security" on Justia Law

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Kerr was employed by the federal agency since 1980. Following adverse personnel actions, Kerr alleged sex and religious discrimination and retaliation before the agency’s Equal Employment Opportunity office. Kerr subsequently challenged her 2006 removal and the earlier adverse personnel actions before the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), citing Title VII and retaliation under the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA), 5 U.S.C. 1201. The MSPB indicated that it lacked jurisdiction over the less-serious personnel decisions and gave Kerr the opportunity to present her removal-related claims to the agency’s EEO office or have the MSPB decide them. Kerr chose the EEO office. The MSPB dismissed Kerr’s appeal without prejudice. The EEO office rejected Kerr’s discrimination claims and concluded that the WPA claim was not within its jurisdiction, telling Kerr that she could not appeal the constructive discharge claim to the EEOC, but could either appeal to the MSPB or file suit. Kerr filed suit. On remand from the Ninth Circuit, the government first argued that the court lacked jurisdiction over Kerr’s WPA claim because she failed to exhaust her administrative remedies by MSPB review. The district court dismissed the WPA claim. A jury returned a defense verdict on the discrimination claim. The Ninth Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court denied certiorari. The MSPB rejected Kerr’s request to reopen, concluding that there was neither good cause nor equitable tolling for the untimely filing. The Federal Circuit reversed. Kerr did have a reasonable basis for thinking that the district court was an appropriate forum for all of her claims. The court noted the language of 5 U.S.C. 7702, Tenth Circuit precedent, and that the government did not warn Kerr she would waive her claim by failing to file at the MSPB. Kerr has demonstrated reasonable diligence and there is no prejudice to the agency. View "Kerr v. Merit Systems Protection Board" on Justia Law

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Siler was an EPA Special Agent, conducting criminal investigations, 1997-2016. Siler also operated a personal business, selling military collectibles. Siler failed to report that business, as required, used his government computer for personal business, and tried to intimidate a contractor with whom he dealt in conducting that business. That contractor filed a complaint. EPA placed Siler on leave. The Office of the Inspector General cleared Siler of criminal charges. After Siler’s supervisor told Siler things “looked good” for an eventual return to full duty, Siler became involved in an investigation into another supervisor, Ashe. Siler expressed fear of retaliation but stated that Ashe had been sleeping at his desk and had smelled of alcohol. Others testified similarly. Ashe retired before serving his suspension. Siler was investigated for conduct unbecoming an investigator, improperly using his government computer, and failing to report his outside business. Siler, 11 months shy of retirement eligibility, was terminated. He argued that removal was not reasonable and that his statements regarding Ashe constituted protected whistleblowing that caused retaliation. In discovery, EPA produced draft notices of proposed sanctions against Siler, which identified a different decision-maker than previously identified. Siler sought the emails to which these drafts had been attached. EPA sought to claw back the drafts, claiming attorney-client privilege. EPA produced no privilege log. The Merit Systems Protection Board found the drafts privileged and found that Siler would have been removed even without his protected disclosures. The Federal Circuit vacated. EPA did not prove that the allegedly protected communication was made in confidence to its attorney. The Board “may not simply guess what might happen absent whistleblowing.” View "Siler v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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The Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) Discipline Review Board sent Boss a proposed 30-day suspension based on disciplinary infraction charges: failure to follow a policy related to overtime sheets, failure to follow supervisory instructions, and conduct unbecoming a U.S. Border Patrol Agent. The deciding official interviewed witnesses and received arguments from the agency and Boss and sent a decision letter, concluding that Boss should be disciplined on all three charges, but reducing the suspension to 15 days. Boss requested arbitration. During the arbitration hearing, the deciding official admitted that he had considered three documents that had not been provided to Boss or his union. The documents were agency policies regarding administratively uncontrollable overtime pay. The arbitrator agreed that the agency violated the contractual due process provision, and vacated Charge One. The parties agreed that the undisclosed documents solely relate to Charge One. The arbitrator analyzed Charges Two and Three on their merits, apparently concluding that he need not address Boss’s contractual and constitutional due process arguments, concluded that the agency carried its burden of proof, and reduced the discipline to a 10- day suspension. The Federal Circuit affirmed. The arbitrator properly treated the three charges separately and independently. View "Boss v. Department of Homeland Security" on Justia Law

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Sihota worked for the IRS for over 25 years. A 2011 IRS audit determined that, in 2003, Sihota reported a loss based on her purported ownership of NKRS, which was actually owned by Sihota’s son. The parties reached a settlement: Sihota acknowledged she had “acted negligently … resulting in an underpayment of ... $5341.00.” Sihota paid the assessment and penalty. The IRS terminated her employment, stating that Sihota was charged with either violating 5 CFR 2635.809 or 26 U.S.C. 7804, which requires the IRS to terminate any employee who willfully understates their federal tax liability, “unless such understatement is due to reasonable cause and not willful neglect.” The Union invoked arbitration. A hearing was held four years after the IRS contacted the Union about scheduling. The arbitrator concluded that inclusion of the loss on her return was not willful neglect, reinstated Sihota’s employment, imposed a 10-day suspension, and held that Sihota was not entitled to back pay, citing laches and the scheduling delay. The Federal Circuit vacated and remanded, stating that it could not discern which charges were properly considered or would support the suspension. If the only charge before the arbitrator was under the statute, the arbitrator could not impose any penalty. While the Union’s delay is inexplicable and might have barred the claim if the IRS could show prejudice, after allowing Sihota’s claim to proceed, the arbitrator cannot rely on laches to reduce her back pay. View "Sihota v. Internal Revenue Service" on Justia Law

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The Capitol Police and the Union were negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement. The Police notified the Union of planned changes to its personnel policies. The Union responded with its own proposals. The Police declined to negotiate some proposals. The Compliance Board ruled for the Police as to some proposals but for the Union as to others and ordered the Police to bargain with the Union. In related cases, the Federal Circuit held that it lacked jurisdiction over the Police’s petitions for direct review of the negotiability decisions but that it had jurisdiction over the Office of Compliance petitions to enforce those decisions. In ruling on the enforcement petitions, the court reviewed the underlying negotiability decisions under the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. 706, default standard of review. In this decision, the court held that whether the Board refers a negotiability petition to a hearing officer is a matter for the Board's discretion, not a matter of statutory compulsion, and that the opportunity for such a referral may be lost if not timely requested. The court separately dismissed the Police’s petitions for direct review of the negotiability decisions regarding 12 specific proposals; held that it has jurisdiction over the enforcement action under 2 U.S.C. 1407(a)(2); granted the petition for enforcement with respect to five proposals while denying the petition with respect to six proposals; and set aside the order with respect to one proposal, remanding for determination of whether that proposal involves a change in conditions of employment. View "Office of Compliance v. United States Capitol Police" on Justia Law

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The Congressional Accountability Act (CAA) conferred rights and protections to employees of the legislative branch, modeled after and incorporating executive branch labor and employment statutes. CAA section 1351 gives legislative branch employees the right to bargain “with respect to conditions of employment" through their chosen representative, 5 U.S.C. 7117, but does not define “conditions of employment.” The Compliance Board issues regulations to implement section 1351; its regulations track the language in the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute, defining “conditions of employment” as “personnel policies, practices, and matters, whether established by rule, regulation, or otherwise, affecting working conditions, except that such term does not include policies, practices, and matters . . . [t]o the extent such matters are specifically provided for by Federal statute.” A negotiability dispute arose between the U.S. Capitol Police and the Union during negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA). The Police proposed to exclude employee terminations from the scope of the CBA’s grievance and arbitration procedures. The Union proposed language to ensure that terminations would continue to be covered by the grievance procedures. The Police refused to negotiate. The Compliance Board found the Union’s proposals negotiable. The Federal Circuit dismissed the Police’s petition for lack of jurisdiction, but, applying the Administrative Procedure Act standard of review, granted an enforcement petition, finding that the Compliance Board’s decision not contrary to law or otherwise invalid. View "United States Capitol Police v. Office of Compliance" on Justia Law