By Deborah Hopkins, December 6, 2022
As we continue MSPB Law Week (next held March 27-31), I thought I’d share a few of the new Board’s decisions on appellant allegations of due process violations. From my read, the Board seems to be closely following four decades of precedent in its decisions.
Lesson 1: A refusal to extend the response period is not a due process violation.
In proposed removals and other appealable actions, appellants are entitled to a statutory minimum of 7 calendar days to respond to the deciding official (DO) under 5 U.S.C. § 7513(b)(1). In a recent case, the agency’s notice of proposed removal gave the appellant a full 14 days to submit any written or oral responses to the DO. The appellant requested an extension on this 14-day timeline, which the agency denied.
Nevertheless, the appellant sent a written response that the DO received after the 14-day window. According to the case, the DO had already decided that the removal action was warranted, yet she still considered the appellant’s late-filed response. However, it did not change her decision. At that point, because the 14 days has passed, she was under no obligation to consider the appellant’s response. However, having done so, she effectively negated his due process argument. Jones v. VA, CH-0752-15-0286-I-1 (Jul. 21, 2022)(NP).
Lesson 2: Providing fewer than 7 days to respond is not automatically a due process violation.
In this case, the agency proposed a 14-day suspension based on two charges and provided the appellant with 7 days to respond. A few days later, the agency amended the proposal notice to add a third charge and gave the appellant an additional 4 days to respond. Although the 4-day response period was fewer than the 7 days required by statute, “it was not unreasonably short.” Moreover, the DO considered the supplemental written response the appellant provided the day after the 4-day deadline. Because the appellant received notice of the action against her, an explanation of the reasons for the action, and an opportunity to present her response, there was no due process violation.
Another interesting takeaway from this case: The agency did not schedule an oral reply, and the appellant raised a harmful error affirmative defense. The Board held that appellant did not show the lack of scheduling an oral reply constituted harmful procedural error because the appellant was still provided the opportunity to present her side of the case in writing.
For those astute readers wondering how a 14-day suspension ended up before the Board in the first place, the agency split the suspension into two portions to fit around the employee’s 90-day detail to another office and, due to administrative error, the two periods of suspension combined for a total of 15 calendar days, thus constituting an appealable action. Cargile v. Army, CH-0752-14-0056-I-2, CH-752S-13-2680-I-2 (Oct. 3, 2022)(NP).
Lesson 3: Credibility matters in allegations of due process violations.
In this case, the appellant claimed her due process rights were violated on the day she received the notice of proposed removal. On that day, the DO spoke to the appellant’s former coworker and indicated that the agency had terminated the appellant. The appellant claimed the alleged conversation demonstrated that “her subsequent response to the proposed removal was meaningless, rather than meaningful.”
The agency disputed the nature of the conversation and due process claim. According to a sworn statement, the DO spoke with three individuals on the day the appellant received the proposed removal. The DO spoke to a Human Resources point of contact, the appellant’s former Engineering Division Chief, and a former subordinate of the DO who was also friends with the appellant. The DO indicated he spoke to HR about the disciplinary process and the DO’s specific responsibilities, “including those related to the appellant’s due process rights.”
A conflict arose in descriptions of the other two conversations:
- “According to that former Engineering Division Chief, he specifically remembered asking if the appellant was fired, and the deciding official responding in the negative, instead indicating that the appellant was being given the opportunity to present her case.”
- “According to that former subordinate of the deciding official and friend of the appellant, the deciding official called him, indicating that the appellant had been terminated earlier that day.”
After weighing the AJ’s credibility determinations, the Board agreed with the AJ that the DO’s version of events was more credible. It denied the appellant’s due process claim. Conde v. DHS, DC-0752-15-1059-I-1 (Nov. 10, 2022)(NP). Hopkins@FELTG.com