Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
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McCord injured his back while serving in the Army and was discharged with a 20% disability rating. Because his rating was below 30% and he served for less than 20 years, McCord received severance pay instead of ongoing military retirement pay and received monthly VA benefits. The Army Board for Correction of Military Records later corrected his record to reflect a 30% disability rating and entitlement to medical retirement pay, rather than severance pay. McCord later challenged the government’s calculation of his entitlement to military retirement back pay and its claimed right to recover the severance pay and requested damages for medical expenses that he incurred because he was not afforded TRICARE coverage before the correction. The Claims Court rejected McCord’s approach to back pay calculation as “double-dipping,” denied relief regarding the recoupment of severance pay “as not ripe,” and held that McCord failed to exhaust administrative procedures for securing TRICARE benefits. The Federal Circuit affirmed except as to the out-of-pocket medical expenses. The court cited 10 U.S.C. 1201, 1203, 1212(d)(a), and 2774, as defining entitlement to retirement pay or severance pay, VA benefits, and the circumstances for recoupment of severance pay. A veteran receiving VA benefits may face a disadvantage if he also secures an award of military retirement pay because he would not be entitled to severance pay but military retirement pay includes TRICARE coverage. View "McCord v. United States" on Justia Law

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McGuffin began his employment with SSA as a preference-eligible veteran, entitled to receive CSRA (Civil Service Reform Act, 92. Stat. 1111) protections after one year. During his first months, McGuffin had a low case completion rate and had cases that were past the seven-day benchmark. He requested training; SSA sent him to a training course. SSA was apparently otherwise satisfied with his work. About eight months after his hiring, SSA began to consider terminating McGuffin. It was noted that, as a preference-eligible veteran in the excepted service, McGuffin would acquire procedural and appellate rights after completing one year of service, so that “McGuffin must be terminated prior to the end of his first year” while another employee could be terminated "within her 2-year trial work period.” Although his work improved, four days before attaining full employee status, SSA terminated McGuffin for failure to “satisfactorily perform the duties” of the attorney advisor position. In a case under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, 38 U.S.C. 4301–35, which prohibits discrimination based on military service, the Federal Circuit reversed the Merit Systems Protection Board. SSA closed the door on McGuffin before the end of his first year to avoid the inconvenience of defending itself should McGuffin assert his procedural CRSA safeguards. McGuffin’s preference-eligible veteran status was a substantial factor in SSA’s termination decision. McGuffin was not performing so poorly as to justify the rush to remove him. View "McGuffin v. Social Security Administration" on Justia Law

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Montelongo was a West Point student cadet, 1973-1977, then served in the Army 1977-1996, from which he retired. From June 21, 2001, to March 28, 2005, Montelongo served as a civilian presidential appointee in the Air Force. An Air Force human resources officer advised Montelongo that his time as a cadet could be “bought back” and credited toward an eventual civil service annuity under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), 5 U.S.C. 8401–8479. Montelongo made the small payment to “buy back” his four years at West Point and, in 2017, applied for a FERS annuity. The Office of Personnel Management and the Merit Systems Protection Board concluded, and the Federal Circuit affirmed, that only his time as a presidential appointee (just under four years) counted as creditable civilian service. Montelongo did not satisfy the five-year threshold requirement for a FERS annuity. Montelongo’s cadet time was “military service” that was creditable service under 5 U.S.C. 8411(c)(1) but was not “civilian service” for which section 8410 sets a five-year minimum for annuity qualification. View "Montelongo v. Office of Personnel Management" on Justia Law

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Citing the Fair Labor Standards Act, which entitles employees to overtime pay for their hours of work that exceed 40 hours per week, 29 U.S.C. 207(a)(1), a group of U.S. Border Patrol Agents sought compensation for activities they claim were performed during “hours of work” while attending a voluntary canine instructor course. Agents who do not seek canine instructor certification by attending that course do not suffer any adverse consequences with respect to their existing jobs. Agents are motivated to obtain canine instructor certification in order to “mak[e] that next step in [their] career” and to potentially become a “course development instructor or . . . to be maybe an assistant director, even director.” The Claims Court granted the government summary judgment. The Federal Circuit affirmed. The course did not constitute “hours of work” under the Office of Personnel Management's regulations. The student instructors were not “directed to participate” in off-hours studying within the meaning of 5 C.F.R. 551.423(a)(2); the primary purpose for enrolling in the DCIC was for career advancement. View "Almanza v. United States" on Justia Law

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Smith worked at the General Services Administration for nearly 30 years before GSA removed him. For most of his career, he received positive evaluations and faced no discipline. When Smith began to complain about GSA’s ineffective collection and management practices, his supervisor warned him to communicate his concerns only to his supervisor. He was eventually suspended for failure to follow that instruction and his relationship with his supervisor deteriorated. Smith was also disciplined for disrespect toward his supervisor and failing to remove his computer access card from his laptop, although Smith, a quadriplegic, was physically unable to remove the card. The Merit Systems Protection Board agreed that GSA retaliated against him for his repeated disclosure of gross mismanagement; Smith was a whistleblower, 5 U.S.C. 2302(b)(8), and his protected disclosures contributed to the decision to remove him. The Board nevertheless upheld the removal. Without addressing evidence relevant to GSA’s motive to retaliate or its treatment of other similarly situated non-whistleblowers, the Board ruled that because GSA had strong evidence of misconduct, removal was justified. The Federal Circuit vacated. The Board conflated two distinct inquiries: whether the penalty was reasonable and whether the agency would have imposed that same penalty absent Smith’s protected whistleblowing. Given Smith’s disability and his supervisors’ knowledge that he could not remove his computer access card, the GSA policy did not apply to him. View "Smith v. General Services Administration" on Justia Law

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Robinson became the Associate Director of the Phoenix Veterans Administration Health Care System in 2012, having started his VA career in 1987. Robinson was aware of scheduling issues, including that it often took more than 30 days for patients to receive new-patient appointments. In 2014, the Chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs alleged that veterans died while on “secret” waitlists at the Phoenix VA. Based on an investigation by the Office of the Inspector General and the Department of Justice, Robinson’s removal was proposed for “failure to provide oversight.” The Deciding Official did not take action. Robinson remained on administrative leave for two years, returning to duty in January 2016. The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs questioned why many senior executives were placed on paid leave instead of removed from office. In March 2016, a second proposal for Robinson’s removal issued. The Deciding Official sustained all charges. Robinson was removed. The Merit Systems Protection Board affirmed the removal, finding that Robinson was negligent in the performance of his duties and failed to provide accurate information to his supervisors but did not sustain a whistleblowing retaliation charge. The Federal Circuit affirmed the decision as supported by substantial evidence, rejecting Robinson’s claim that he was treated differently than other supervisors. Robinson had notice and a pre-termination opportunity to be heard. Robinson had a duty to ensure compliance with VA policy but the record demonstrated that he did not. View "Robinson v. Department of Veterans Affairs" on Justia Law

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Hamilton had been employed by the EEOC for 20 years, with no disciplinary problems, until one day in 2016, when, while engaged in mediation, he suddenly began using racial epithets, engaging in physical violence, and refusing to follow orders. The EEOC removed him from federal service. The union filed a grievance, which led to arbitration. During a hearing, the EEOC called 11 witnesses; the union called Hamilton. Although the arbitrator found that certain aspects of the EEOC’s case had not been proved, he credited the testimony of EEOC witnesses to conclude that Hamilton “had a major physical and/or mental breakdown.” Because Hamilton denied taking any of the actions he was charged with, the arbitrator concluded that Hamilton “did not remember.” The arbitrator found that the EEOC had not shown that Hamilton’s behavior had any negative effect on its reputation and had failed to consider that Hamilton’s behavior “was caused by his obvious medical condition,” and set aside Hamilton’s removal, awarding back pay. The arbitrator denied the union’s request for arbitration costs and attorney fees. The Federal Circuit vacated the denial of attorneys’ fees; 5 U.S.C. 7701(g) provides that an adjudicator may require an agency to pay the employee’s reasonable attorney fees if the employee is the prevailing party and the adjudicator determines that payment by the agency “is warranted in the interest of justice.” On remand, the arbitrator must reconsider the issue and include a statement of reasons. View "AFGE Local 3599 v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission" on Justia Law

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Sharpe has been a DEA employee since 1995. Until 2008, he was also a Navy reservist. While at the DEA, Sharpe was deployed three times, twice for six months. As of 2015, Sharpe had applied for 14 GS-14 positions since 2012. Since 2009, Sharpe has been supervised by Sherman, who is responsible for recommending agents for promotion. Because he scored 91 out of 100 on his examination, Sharpe was on the Best Qualified List for every GS-14 position for which he applied, but he was only selected by Sherman three times and never as Sherman’s first-ranked agent. The Career Board often selects Sherman’s first-ranked agent, absent an agent requiring a lateral transfer from abroad or for hardship. In 2015, Sharpe requested corrective action under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), 38 U.S.C. 4311(a), asserting his non-selection was motivated by his military status and that Sherman was hostile towards reservist. Six other current and former reservists working as agents in San Diego, including Sorrells, also filed USERRA claims. Before the Merit Systems Protection Board Sharpe unsuccessfully sought to introduce an email sent to Sorrells by Tomaski, who reported directly to Sherman. At the hearing, Sharpe was not allowed to question Sherman about the email. The Federal Circuit vacated the MSPB’s denial of corrective action. Evidence of the Tomaski email and of Sherman’s response to it is relevant to Sherman’s potential hostility towards others’ military or USERRA activity. View "Sharpe v. Department of Justice" on Justia Law

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Hornseth worked at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, which houses nuclear-powered vessels; every position requires a security clearance. Hornseth attended rehabilitation for alcoholism and provided the Navy with documents regarding his treatment. From Hornseth’s rehabilitation discharge letter, the Navy learned that Hornseth had used marijuana during his employment. The Commander notified Hornseth that his security clearance was suspended and that the Navy proposed to indefinitely suspend his employment. Hornseth filed a reply. Combs, the deciding official, engaged in communications with the Shipyard’s Human Resources staff, primarily concerning positions that would not require a security clearance. The HR department drafted a “Decision on Proposed Indefinite Suspension” and forwarded it to Combs. Combs signed the decision. The Merit Systems and Protection Board ALJ affirmed, rejecting due process arguments that the reply process was an empty formality because Combs did not have the ability to take or recommend alternative agency action and Combs and the HR staff engaged in an improper ex parte communication. The Federal Circuit affirmed. Homseth received the procedural protections of 5 U.S.C. 7513(b); he received notice, had an opportunity to respond and to be represented, and was provided with a written decision with reasons. Although Hornseth had not seen the communication to Combs before the discovery process, the information it contained was already known to Hornseth or cumulative. View "Hornseth v. Department of the Navy" on Justia Law

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Donaldson, a Capitol Police officer, was involved in an off-duty domestic incident. The Office of Professional Responsibility investigated and recommended termination. The Disciplinary Review Board agreed that Donaldson should be punished but recommended only a 45-day unpaid suspension. The Chief of Police decided to terminate Donaldson. After 30 days passed without intervention by the Capitol Police Board, the Chief’s decision was deemed approved and Donaldson was terminated (2 U.S.C. 1907(e)(1)(B)) Under a collective bargaining agreement (CBA), the Chief’s termination decisions are subject to binding arbitration. The Union requested arbitration. The Police refused to select an arbitrator, arguing that it “would be in violation of a determination of the Capitol Police Board and its distinct statutory authority by consenting to the jurisdiction of any arbitrator.” The Union protested to the General Counsel for the Office of Compliance (OOC) that the Police violated section 220(c)(2) of the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995, 2 U.S.C. 1301–1438, by refusing to arbitrate an unresolved grievance and therefore committed an unfair labor practice. A hearing officer granted OOC judgment. The Board of Directors of the Congressional Accountability Office of Compliance reasoned that the Police is obligated to arbitrate disputes arising under its CBA unless it can cite clearly-established law that removes the dispute in question from arbitration; the Police’s legal arguments fell short. The Federal Circuit rejected an appeal by the Police and granted the OOC’s petition for an order of enforcement. View "United States Capitol Police v. Office of Compliance" on Justia Law