FSGB Annual Report 2018: Judicial Actions Involving Board Rulings

 

The following is excerpted from the Foreign Service Grievance Board Annual Report 2018. This is a good time to remind folks that while names/posts and identifying details are typically redacted from the Record of Proceedings (ROPs) routinely posted in the publicly available website fsgb.gov, once the case is filed in federal court, the records are usually publicly accessible and are unredacted (unless the case is sealed).

As described in last year’s report, USAID OIG had recommended that the grievant in FSGB Case No. 2012-057 be separated for cause. After two hearings, the Board approved the agency’s decision. The grievant appealed to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. In a decision issued October 12, 2018, the court upheld the Board’s decision on cross-motions for summary judgment. The grievant has appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, challenging the District Court’s and Board’s construction of section 7(b) of the IG Act, which protects the confidentiality of employee informants.

In FSGB Case No. 2014-018, the grievant had requested a waiver of collection of a substantial overpayment of her deceased mother’s survivor’s annuity. The Department contended that she was not entitled to consideration of a waiver because the overpayment was made to her mother’s estate; under Department regulations, estates are not entitled to waivers. The Board concurred and grievant appealed. In a decision issued January 19, 2018, the D.C. district court found that the regulation denying waivers to estates was valid, but that the FSGB had erred in determining that the overpayments were made to the mother’s estate rather than to grievant as an individual. The court remanded the case for the Department and the Board to decide the request for the waiver on its merits. The waiver request is currently pending with the Department.

The grievant in FSGB Case No. 2015-016 filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in 2017 against the Department and his former rater and reviewer requesting monetary damages related to the Board’s denial of his grievance. He had contested two EERs and a low ranking. The district court dismissed the complaint as untimely in a decision issued March 30, 2018. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed that decision on December 28, 2018.

The grievant in FSGB Case No. 2013-005 contended that he was deprived of certain benefits, such as promotion consideration, during a five-year assignment to an international organization. The Department found him ineligible for the benefits because his assignment to the organization was effected through a “separation and transfer” agreement, rather than a “detail.” The Board affirmed the Department’s decision and the United States District Court for the District of Colombia upheld that decision on appeal in a decision issued in 2016. The grievant had also appealed the Board’s decision in a second, related, case, FSGB Case No 2014-024, in which he had claimed certain benefits based upon his separation and transfer and subsequent reemployment with the Department. The Board dismissed his second grievance on the grounds of claims preclusion. In a decision issued March 14, 2018, the district court concluded that the Board’s decision was neither arbitrary and capricious nor contrary to law and dismissed his claims. The grievant appealed both decisions to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and that matter remains pending.

The grievant in FSGB Case No. 2017-014 was denied tenure and scheduled for separation from the Foreign Service. Consequently, the Department ordered her to leave her overseas post and assigned her to a position in Washington, D.C. The grievant filed a grievance with the Department challenging her transfer on several bases. The Department denied the grievance, and the grievant appealed to the Board. The Board denied all of grievant’s claims. It further found that, since no statute or regulation had been violated, it lacked jurisdiction to overturn an assignment decision. The grievant appealed the decision to the U.S. District Court for the District of the Virgin Islands, St. Croix Division. In a decision issued September 24, 2018, the court affirmed the Board’s decision.

Decisions were issued this year in two other cases filed by the same grievant, stemming from the same sets of circumstances but not involving appeals of Department or Board grievances. The grievant filed a case under the Equal Pay Act of 1963 in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims alleging gender-based discrimination in pay and benefits. She claimed that the Department discriminated against her by paying her less and providing her with fewer benefits than a similarly-situated male employee. The court initially dismissed the case, finding that it lacked jurisdiction because the same appeal was pending in another court at the time she filed. However, that decision was overturned by the circuit court and the case was remanded to the Court of Claims. The grievant also filed two identical complaints in the U.S. District Court for the District of the Virgin Islands, St. Croix Division, alleging discrimination and retaliation by the Department under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. In both cases, the court dismissed all but one of the claims. The grievant also filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia alleging nearly identical discrimination and retaliation by the Department under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Therefore, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has stayed its proceedings pending a decision in the U.S. District Court for the District of the Virgin Islands case.

An appeal of the Board’s 2017 decision by the State Department and USAID/OIG in another long-running case remains pending in the D.C. District Court following briefing of crossmotions for summary judgment in Civil Action No. 18-cv-41 (KBJ). As described in previous annual reports, the grievant in FSGB Case No. 2013-031 contested the decision to calculate his retirement annuity based on the application of a pay cap on his special differential pay that had not been applied when his salary was paid. In 2014, the Board initially upheld the agency’s decision. On grievant’s appeal, the district court in Civil Action No. 14-cv-1492 (KBJ) vacated the Board’s decision and remanded the case to the Board for further review. On remand, the Board in FSGB Case No. 2013-031R and No. 2016-030 issued a decision granting the grievant calculation and payment of his annuity that he sought. The Board denied the Department’s request for reconsideration of that decision. The Department and USAID/OIG jointly appealed the Board’s decision on remand to the district court in Civil Action No. 18-cv-41 (KBJ).

The 2015 Annual Report reported that the grievant filed an appeal of the Board’s decision in FSGB Case No. 2014-003 in Federal District Court, District of Colombia, claiming that the Department violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act when it separated her. That appeal is still pending.

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FSGB finds no merit in argument that @StateDept has “unfettered discretion” to grant or deny SNEA benefit

Via FSGB Case No. 2018-016:

“The Department next argues that its granting a SNEA under section 5924 is “discretionary,” and in any event must be paid in accordance with the DSSRs. As we have previously stated, the prior authorization the grievants sought, for reimbursement after their arrival at post, is fully consistent with the DSSRs. Further, we find no merit to the argument that the Department has unfettered discretion under section 5924 to grant or deny a SNEA benefit to employees in any way it may see fit. Rather, law and regulation must limit its discretion.”

Via giphy.com

Grievant Prevails Over Diplomatic Security’s Duplicative Disciplinary Actions

 

Via FSGB Case No. 2018-027

HELD – The Board held that the Department failed to meet its burden of proving that it did not violate agency policy when it imposed a second round of discipline (a two-day suspension without pay) after grievant had previously received several oral admonishments) for the same act of misconduct.

… Grievant accessed the CCD and reviewed the female friend’s visa records. He then sent an email on May 24, 2013 to the Consular Officer who had adjudicated the visa application, asking why the visa had not been approved and whether there was anything the applicant could do to “overcome” the disapproval.

The email read in part:

I explained to [the inquiring REDACTED Official] that the visa issuance process is an independent process done by the consular section at the respective embassy [sic] and that I have no involvement in the process or adjudication of the application, but that I would check with the embassy to see if there was anything that she could do or provide to overcome the refusal. Is there anything the applicant could do or provide to overcome the 214(B) refusal? Or is it pretty solid given no local employment and only having recently started her studies in business admin?

Grievant did not receive a response to his inquiry and he took no further action

CASE SUMMARY – In May 2013, grievant, a Diplomatic Security (DS) Special Agent, received a request from a professional colleague inquiring about a visa denial of a female friend of another colleague. Grievant accessed the Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) to determine who the Consular Officer was for the visa denial and drafted an email to that officer inquiring whether there was anything his contact could do regarding the denial. Within a few days, the Visa Chief at the post that made the visa decision, wrote to the Consular Integrity Division of DS (DS/CID) advising that grievant had apparently accessed the CCD without a work related need to do so. DS/CID passed the matter to the Chief of the Office of Investigations and Counterintelligence, Criminal Division (DS/ICI/CR). The Chief of DS/ICI/CR consulted with the Supervisory Special Agent of DS/CID and with the Chief of the Criminal Fraud Investigations Branch (CFI) before deciding to refer the matter to grievant’s immediate supervisors for whatever action they deemed appropriate.

Two of grievant’s supervisors opened administrative inquiries in June 2013, contacted grievant, learned from him that he immediately acknowledged the improper access of the CCD and each decided to give grievant an oral admonishment. One additional supervisor also admonished grievant orally. All management officials concluded that no further action was necessary. Grievant was so informed by at least two of these officials.

In the fall of 2014, the DS Office of Special Investigations (DS/OSI) informed grievant that it was opening an investigation into the same matter. During an interview with grievant and his counsel, grievant advised that he had already been counseled for this act of misconduct. He provided proof that he had been admonished; however, he was proposed for a three-day suspension that was later mitigated to two days. The suspension proposal was sustained by the Department and grievant served the two-day suspension.

A grievance regarding duplicative discipline was denied by the agency. On appeal, the Board concluded that all regulatory steps had been followed by grievant’s supervisor who initially determined that he was the appropriate official, in consultation with others at DS, to determine what discipline should be imposed. The Board further concluded that administrative inquiries were properly conducted by additional supervisors after evidence was gathered, grievant was consulted, and all appropriate factors were considered. The Board found that specific agency policy precluded grievant from being subjected to a second disciplinary process. Accordingly, the Board held that the Department was obligated to refund grievant’s pay and benefits lost during the suspension; his Official Performance Folder should have all references to the suspension proposal and decision removed; and that grievant’s OPF should be reviewed by reconstituted Selection Boards for each year (2017 and possibly 2018) in which the suspension letter was in the file.

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Is this how you keep a potentially embarrassing case away from public eyes?

 

Via FSGB 2018 Annual Report:

In FSGB Case No. 2018-001, an FS-01 appealed a 3-day suspension on a charge of Conduct Unbecoming. The charge arose from allegations that he facilitated the inappropriate hiring of a former political appointee. Grievant contends that, although he was the hiring official, all of his actions were at the direction of senior bureau staff and in consultation with the bureau’s administrative staff. The case was settled and withdrawn.

*

FSGB Case No. 2018-001: On March 1, 2018, the Foreign Service Grievance Board received a Notice of Withdrawal from grievant’s attorney, {Attorney’s Name}, stating as follows: “Grievant, {Grievant’s Name}, through counsel, {Attorney’s Name}, hereby withdraws his grievance appeal filed on January 3, 2018, with prejudice. The parties have settled their dispute.”  The Notice of Withdrawal has been entered in the record of proceedings, and the record is now closed.

We understand that because this case was settled and withdrawn there is no actual FSGB decision in the case; thus, there is no publicly available record of the case. Presumably State/HR/Grievance has the paper trail and the finer details, but for now, because the case was settled we won’t know who is the ex-political appointee, which bureau was involved, which senior bureau … er staffers were responsible, or the terms of the settlement.  One wonders if the State Department settled this case because it did not want the details in public view, or if grievant has the “receipts” that could get higher ups in a specific bureau in trouble?

via tumblr.com

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FSGB Case: Employee’s Mental Health Issues and Performance

 

Via FSGB Case No. 2016-043:

The Department denies that grievant’s 2013 EER is factually inaccurate, falsely prejudicial, or biased, and cites a series of interviews with her supervisors, subordinates, and colleagues to dispute her contentions about the unfairness and inaccuracy of the EER. In response to grievant’s allegation that she was inadequately counselled on the deficiencies described in her EER, the agency contends, based on statements from grievant’s rating officer, that she was in fact counselled, both formally and informally, during the rating period. With respect to grievant’s claim that she was bullied, ostracized, and treated unfairly by the Embassy community, which she alleges triggered her trauma symptoms, the Department provided input from the Ambassador, grievant’s rating officer, and the General Services officer, all of whom disputed grievant’s allegations.

In response to grievant’s claim that she suffered from then-undiagnosed mental health issues (including anxiety, depression and trauma symptoms), the Department counters with quotes from grievant’s rating officer who stated that “from the time REDACTED arrived at post, she appeared unhappy and talked of being stressed.” The rater recalled that some of her stress “appeared to be related to prior postings (including REDACTED, REDACTED, and REDACTED),” and said that “upon arrival she talked to me about how stressful she had found the 6 months of FSI [Foreign Service Institute] REDACTED language training, and told me she urgently needed a break.” The Department was not persuaded that grievant’s poor performance resulted from the medical condition with which grievant was diagnosed after she left REDACTED. The Department put less credence in the medical statement grievant provided from her post-REDACTED therapist, stating “grievant has not provided medical documentation substantiating her alleged diagnosis. Nor does grievant’s counselor provide such documentation; the counselor merely states that ‘I believe PTSD is the primary diagnosis.’”

FSGB BOARD:

In all grievances except those involving discipline, the grievant bears the burden of proving that her claims are meritorious.3 This case turns on whether the grievant’s EER is falsely prejudicial, and, whether any documented underperformance can be attributed to the grievant’s post-REDACTED diagnosis of mental health disorders. The Board notes that the record in this case is, unfortunately, sparse with respect to a diagnosis of grievant’s mental health issues. While the Department is correct in noting that grievant’s counselor noted only that “I believe that PTSD is the primary diagnosis,” the Department provides no opposing medical information whatsoever, relying solely on the observation of grievant’s Foreign Service colleagues in REDACTED.  Grievant’s licensed mental health counselor did in fact provide a detailed listing of grievant’s problems in REDACTED, and concluded that grievant suffered mental health disorders as a result thereof. We note that grievant’s counselor saw the grievant regularly over a period of more than a year. On balance, therefore, the Board is obliged to find grievant’s medical evidence preponderant. After careful examination of the ROP, the Board concludes that grievant’s 2013 EER cannot stand, because her performance during that period was likely influenced by her depression, anxiety, and trauma symptoms. We base our conclusion largely on the detailed statement submitted by grievant’s Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), with whom grievant had at least 38 therapy sessions between April 2014 and August 2015, and to whom grievant was referred by a prior therapist who had diagnosed her with anxiety, depression, and trauma symptoms. In the Board’s view, this statement, written by a mental health professional who knows the grievant well, is entitled to more weight in the decision process than that of grievant’s rating and reviewing officers, or her colleagues at post. We also note that the Agency provided no contradictory medical opinion, or any information of a medical nature.

In her August 18, 2015, statement, grievant’s LPC states, in relevant parts:

She was referred to my center, the National Center for the Treatment of Phobias, Anxiety, and Depression in Washington DC by a previous therapist who had diagnosed her with anxiety, depression, and Trauma Symptoms. She also sees REDACTED , MD for medications at this center. I believe PTSD is the primary diagnosis and the depression and anxiety are symptoms of the PTSD. REDACTED described primitive and unsanitary living conditions that caused her to feel unsafe. She reported unsanitary water in her apartment, unsafe electrical problems, and other living conditions that prevented sleep, peace and support. While in the workplace, she felt she was targeted, bullied and marginalized. Because of the combination of insecurity in her home, insecurity in her workplace, and the stress of an extremely stressful foreign environment, began to suffer from PTSD symptoms. She became depressed and hopeless, developed panic attacks, difficulty sleeping, developed nightmares, and generalized anxiety.

It is my understanding that her evaluations from this period faulted her for having strained relations with her subordinates, program participants, and peers in Washington, as well as difficulty making contacts in the REDACTED media and discomfort speaking to media on the record. I did not observe REDACTED during this period, so I do not have an opinion on the accuracy of these criticisms, but, if true, each would in my opinion be related to the various symptoms of her previously-undiagnosed and untreated anxiety, depression and trauma symptoms. 

I do not believe a patient can work with very seasoned therapists or psychiatrists and hide character issues as described in the accusations towards REDACTED. However, I do believe that it would have been difficult, if not impossible, for REDACTED , while suffering the effects of PTSD, to maintain a high level of diplomacy, an ability to connect well with co-workers, and to utilize PR skills to connect at work well with the media.

Nightmares, panic attacks, depression, extreme fear, feelings of hopelessness and helplessness and not feeling respected or supported would prevent most people from working at a level of excellence which, to my knowledge, had been true for REDACTED before her REDACTED posting. I believe REDACTED ’s behavior while in REDACTED was mischaracterized at most and misunderstood at the least. This is my opinion based on working with many patients who suffer from trauma-related symptoms. 

We find the foregoing LPC statement to be a detailed professional observation, based on relatively long-term (at least 16 months’) observation of grievant, and thus accord it more weight than we do the statements offered by the Department from non-medical providers (her rater, the General Services officer (GSO), the Ambassador, and grievant’s subordinates). While the statement does not contain a definite diagnosis of grievant’s symptoms, we note it is from a licensed medical professional, and is countered by the Department only with comments from non-medical co-workers and colleagues.

THE BOARD’S DECISION:

Grievant has shown by preponderant evidence that she suffered from the effects of then undiagnosed mental health conditions including anxiety, depression, and potential Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during her tour in REDACTED and accordingly, her Employee Evaluation Report (EER) for 2013 must be expunged and replaced in her Official Personnel File (OPF) by a standard gap memorandum. Grievant has shown that she suffered from these conditions and that they affected her performance in ways that contributed to the negative statements in her EER. If she is not promoted by reconstituted Selection Boards for the years 2014 -2017, her Time in Class shall be extended by one year.

One more: “as a general matter, an EER is inherently false, even though it accurately describes an employee’s performance, if that poor performance was the result of the employee’s serious illness.”

Foreign Service Labor Relations Board Rules For @StateDept in 2014 MSI Case

AFSA has recently informed its members that the Foreign Service Labor Relations Board (FSLRB) has ruled for the State Department in the 2014 Meritorious Service Increase (MSI) dispute. The ruling affects approximately 270 Foreign Service employees: 

AFSA regrets to inform our members that on September 21, 2018, the Foreign Service Labor Relations Board (FSLRB) granted the Department of State’s exceptions (i.e., appeal) and set aside the Foreign Service Grievance Board’s (FSGB) December 8, 2017 Decision, which had found that the Department violated the procedural precepts by not paying Meritorious Service Increases (MSI) to approximately 277 Foreign Service employees who were recommended but not reached for promotion by the 2014 Selection Boards.  AFSA argued that the Department was required to confer MSIs on all eligible employees (up to the 10% limit set forth in the precepts) who were recommended but not reached for promotion.  The Department argued that it had the unilateral discretion to give MSIs to only 5% of employees ranked but not reached for promotion, since 5% was below the 10% limit.

Rather than give substantial deference, as is normally the case, to the FSGB’s interpretation of the parties’ agreement (i.e., the promotion precepts), two of the three FSLRB members (including the Administration’s appointee to the FSLRB) agreed with the Department’s arguments and found that the FSGB had misinterpreted the precepts.  The third member, Retired Ambassador Herman Cohen, dissented from the majority decision.  When a party seeks to establish that an arbitrator (in this case, the Grievance Board) misinterpreted an agreement, the party must provide that the decision “fails to draw its essence from the agreement.”  This is an extremely high burden to meet.  According to the case law, “great deference” is given to the arbitrator’s interpretation of the agreement “because it is the arbitrator’s construction of the agreement for which the parties have bargained.”   In this case, however, the FSLRB chose not to defer to the Grievance Board, ignoring the “great deference” practice.  Unfortunately, the FSLRB’s decision is not subject to judicial review.

AFSA says that it is “extremely disappointed by this decision.” Its notice to members notes that it prevailed in two earlier cases, the 2013 and 2014 MSI disputes. It also informed members that despite this ruling, it plans to proceed with the 2015 and 2016 MSI cases before the Grievance Board.

Excerpt from FSLRB ruling says:

The Grievance Board stated that it was “indisputably true” that, by its plain terms, the phrase “no more than [10%]” in the agreement means that the Agency may award MSIs to “10% or less” of eligible employees.29 As discussed above, the Grievance Board should have ended its analysis there, with the agreement’s plain wording. Instead, the Grievance Board found that, because the parties had different interpretations, the wording was ambiguous.30 But wording that is clear on its face does not become ambiguous simply because the parties disagree as to its meaning.31 Rather, a contract is ambiguous if it is susceptible to two different and plausible interpretations, each of which is consistent with the contract wording. 32 The interpretation adopted by the Grievance Board – that “no more than [10%]” means the Agency must award MSIs to no less than 10% of eligible employees33 – is not consistent with the plain meaning of the agreement’s wording. Consequently, it is not a plausible interpretation of the agreement.

FLRA Chairman Colleen Duffy Kiko who was confirmed by the Senate in November 2017 serves as the Chairperson of the FSLRB. The two other members of the FSLRB are Stephen Ledford, who previously served as the Director of Labor and Employee Relations at the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) and was sworn on his third term with FSLRB in 2015, and Ambassador (ret.) Herman J. Cohen, a career diplomat and specialist in African and European affairs who was appointed to his first term with the FSLRB in October 2015.

In his dissent, Ambassador Cohen writes:

For five years prior to 2014, the year covered by this case, the promotion precepts, negotiated between management and the union, were always the same: MSIs will be awarded to those recommended for promotion at a maximum of ten percent of those on the list, in rank order. With this practice having been followed year after year, it is quite normal that the union had the right to believe that the number would never be less than ten percent pursuant to the negotiated precepts. Ten percent was not part of a sliding scale. It was an agreed amount.

If management had changed that number from year to year, the situation for 2014 would have been totally different. The union would have demanded the right to negotiate that number.

For this reason, management’s decision to unilaterally change the number of MSIs was contrary to the precepts, despite the ambiguous language. Historical practice said that ten percent of those recommended, but not promoted, would receive MSIs. Secondly, management gave a reason for awarding only five percent MSIs in 2014. Management said it was “exercising its budgetary authority” to make the reduction. In other words, the funds were needed elsewhere.
[…]
In the specific year 2014, it appears that the need to save money by reducing MSIs had no relationship to overall budgetary needs. In short, management was saving money on MSIs, and using that “salary money” to pay for 35 sets of ambassadorial furniture, as one possible example. In 2014, management provided no reason to justify this reduction in this highest priority “salary” by higher priority needs elsewhere. Neither, to my knowledge, was there an overall government-wide freeze in MSIs that year.

The case is U.S. State Department v. AFSA. The FSLRB decision is available to read here or see this link: FS-AR-0007Dec 9-21-18

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Foreign Service Grievance Board: Members as of November 3, 2017

Posted: 2:04 am ET

 

Last week, we blogged about the Foreign Service Grievance Board (see Waiting For Tillerson: Grievance Board’s Term Expired on 9/30, Members Down From 18 to 8.  Per update from FSGB, Secretary Tillerson had appointed 11 members to the Board on November 3, 2017 – six former members were reappointed and five new members were appointed to their first terms on the Board. The current FSGB now has a total to 19 members.  The website has now been updated to reflect the members of the new Board, with the exception of two new appointees (note that the hyperlinks to the names is set to auto-download the bios in PDF format). We are reposting the new FSGB below for your information.

Of the ten members whose terms expired on September 30, 2017, six were reappointed to new two-year terms, expiring on September 30, 2019. Those members are as follows:

  • Bernadette Allen
  • Barbara Cummings
  • Gregory Loose
  • Elliot Shaller, Deputy Chair
  • Susan Winfield
  • Garber Davidson (reappointed as a Board member and as Board Chair)

The Secretary appointed five new members to the Board. These members’ terms will expire on September 30, 2019:

  • John Limbert
  • Larry Mandel
  • Wendela Moore
  • Luis Moreno
  • Rosemary Pye

Four former members whose terms expired on September 30, 2017 were not reappointed. They are:

  • Robert Manzanares
  • William Nance
  • Harlan Rosacker
  • John Vittone

Previously appointed members whose term did not expire, and who will be joined by the 11 new/reappointed  members are as follows:

  • William E. Persina
  • Patricia Norland
  • Nancy Morgan Serpa
  • Lino Gutierrez
  • Frank Almaguer
  • David P. Clark
  • Cheryl M. Long
  • Arthur A. Horowitz

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Waiting For Tillerson: Grievance Board’s Term Expired on 9/30, Members Down From 18 to 8

Posted: 2:52 am ET
Updated: 9:12 am PT

 

Update: After this blogpost was posted, we received the following from FSGB today:  “Secretary Tillerson appointed 11 members to the Board on November 3, 2017 – six former members were reappointed and five new members were appointed to their first terms on the Board. this yields a net increase of one Board member, bringing the total to 19 members. On the question of the website address: IRM is aware of the issue with the website and is researching a solution to resolve it. the current address is a temporary fix to allow us to stay online until IRM finds a permanent solution that will comply with the FAH.” The website has now been updated to reflect the members of the new Board.

The Foreign Service Grievance Board has 18 members.  The two-year appointment of 10 of 18 members expired on September 30, 2017. Secretary Tillerson needs to appoint new members of the Board. He is reportedly “considering appointments to the Board” but six weeks later, he has yet to announced his decision.

A quick background on the Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB) via fsgb.gov:

On March 26, 1976 Congress amended the Foreign Service Act of 1946 to establish a permanent grievance system.  Although it retained many of the procedures of the earlier, interim system, the statutory system carried additional functions and authority.  In particular, the new Board could order the suspension of agency actions pending the Board’s decision in cases involving the separation or disciplining of an employee if it considered such action warranted.  Further, the Board’s recommendations to an agency head could be rejected only if they “would be contrary to law, would adversely affect the foreign policy or security of the United States, or would substantially impair the efficiency of the service.”

Under Section 1105 of the Foreign Service Act of 1980, as amended (the Act), Congress established the Foreign Service Grievance Board, which consists of no fewer than five members who are independent, distinguished citizens of the United States. Well known for their integrity, they are not employees of the foreign affairs agencies or members of the Service. Each member, including the Chairperson, is appointed by the Secretary of State for a term of two years, subject to renewal. Appointments are made from nominees approved in writing by the agencies served by the Board and the exclusive representative for each such agency. The Chairperson may select one member as a deputy who, in the absence of the Chair, may assume the duties and responsibilities of that position. The Chair also selects an Executive Secretary, who is responsible to the Board through the Chairperson.

The grievance system underwent further change pursuant to the Foreign Service Act of 1980 and implementing regulations which went into effect on June 11, 1984.  The Foreign Commercial Service of the Department of Commerce and the Foreign Agricultural Service of the Department of Agriculture were added to the agencies already covered.

Through the years the makeup of the Board has changed from the initial nine members to a membership of 18.  Board members are appointed by the Secretary of State and the innovative mix of an almost equal number of professional arbitrators and of other members having Foreign Service experience has remained constant.

According to the FSGB, the terms of the Chairman and Deputy Chair expired on October 1, 2017, and the Board awaits the Secretary’s appointment of a new Chair.

In 2014, the average time for the disposition of an FSGB case from time of filing to Board decision, withdrawal or dismissal was 41 weeks. In 2015, it went down to 34 weeks, and in 2016 that time was up to 39 weeks.  The length of time for disposition of FSGB cases will likely go up again given that the members are down to its last eight members, they have no chairperson until one is appointed, and new members have yet to be appointed six weeks since the last Board’s appointment ended.

Below is the announcement from the FSGB:

Until October 1, the Foreign Service Grievance Board consisted of 18 members, appointed by the Secretary of State to two-year terms.  The terms of ten FSGB members, including the Chairperson, expired on September 30, 2017.  The Secretary of State is considering appointments to the Board, but has not yet announced his decision.  Until the appointments are announced, the remaining eight Board members, with the aid of their staff, will continue to work on resolving the cases before the Board to the extent allowed by time constraints and the limits of the Board’s authority under the Foreign Service Act.  Parties to grievance cases before the Board should adhere to all case processing deadlines, communicating with the adjudication panels through the Board Special Assistant assigned to their cases.  Grievants filing cases in this interim period will receive specific guidance after the grievance is filed. 

The Board requests patience, as case processing times will likely increase due to the reduced number of Board members able to rule on grievances.  Parties will be notified of changes to panel membership when such a change becomes necessary.

Also hey, what’s the deal with FSGB’s new URL –https://regionals.service-now.com/fsgb_public?

State Department websites are supposed to have a .gov in their URLs and are prohibited from using .com.  Per 5 FAH 8 H-342.3-2 Required Domain Names “Department public websites must use a state.gov domain name or .gov according to the naming convention for posts. The top-level name .com is strictly prohibited.”

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Court on FSGB tenure denial case: “ignores significant parts of record and fails to connect rationally”

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Posted: 1:50 am ET
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The 2016 Annual report of the Foreign Service Grievance Board only mentions the Aragon v. Tillerson case in passing as follows:

Daniel P. Aragon, a former Foreign Service career candidate at the Department of State, filed an appeal on January 29, 2016, with the District Court for the District of Columbia, challenging the Board’s denial of his appeal in FSGB Case No. 2014-034. Mr. Aragon had contested two EERs and the withholding of tenure and involuntary separation that flowed from those EERs.

This case was filed in 2016. Per Federal Rule of Civil Procedure, the Court substituted as defendant the current Secretary of State,Rex Tillerson, for former Secretary of State John Kerry.

Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has harsh words for the Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB) on this specific case:

The plaintiff, the Foreign Service, and American taxpayers have invested heavily in the plaintiff’s career as a Foreign Service officer, and the FSGB does a disservice when it renders a decision that ignores significant parts of record and fails to connect rationally the underlying facts to its ultimate conclusion. This is what the FSGB did in finding that the May and November 2013 EERs were not falsely prejudicial. For these reasons, the FSGB’s decision is vacated with respect to its conclusion that these EERs were not falsely prejudicial, and this action is remanded to the FSGB for further proceedings consistent with this Memorandum Opinion.21

Quick summary of the case:

The plaintiff, Daniel Aragon, served as an entry-level Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State for five years, until he was denied tenure and involuntarily separated in 2014. The reason for the tenure denial arose during the plaintiff’s second overseas assignment, when the plaintiff was responsible for supervising an employee, whose undisputed pattern of insubordination, tardiness, abuse of leave policies and performance issues would, in many work environments, warrant termination of employment. Instead, the plaintiff’s management efforts, which were ultimately successful, to bring this employee into compliance with basic workplace rules, has led to the plaintiff’s own termination from a job he “love[s].” AR at 354.1

The plaintiff filed the instant action against the Secretary of State, in the Secretary’s official capacity, after the State Department denied his grievance contesting the performance evaluations on which the tenure denial was predicated, and the Foreign Service Grievance Board (“FSGB”) upheld the State Department’s decision.2 Alleging that the FSGB’s decision was “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law,” in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A), the plaintiff seeks, inter alia, an order directing the State Department to remove from his personnel file the two performance evaluations on which the denial of tenure was predicated, Compl., Relief ¶ 3, ECF No. 1; an order rescinding the tenure decisions predicated on those evaluations, id.; an order directing the State Department to reinstate the plaintiff retroactively, with back pay and benefits, id. ¶ 4; and an order directing the State Department to place the plaintiff in the same promotional class he would be in had he received tenure in the winter of 2013, id. ¶ 5. Pending before the Court are the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment, see generally Pl.’s Mot. Summ. J. (“Pl.’s MSJ”), ECF No. 12, and the Secretary’s cross-motion for summary judgment, see generally Defs.’ Mot. Summ. J. (“Defs.’ MSJ”), ECF No. 14. For the reasons set out below, the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part, without prejudice, the Secretary’s cross-motion for summary judgment is denied without prejudice, and this action is remanded to the FSGB for further proceedings.

What the what? Excerpt from court’s opinion:

[T]he record shows that the CPS [cultural program specialist FSN] had an “apparent pattern” of abusing sick leave and would disappear from work for extended periods of time. Id. at 42; see also id. at 335 (describing the manner in which the CPS “took sick leave immediately before or after a block of annual leave[, which] suggest[ed] that she was abusing sick leave in order to augment her annual leave”). This apparently lax office culture was extant before the plaintiff’s arrival, leaving him with the task of changing that culture to ensure that employees, such as the CPS, on the U.S. Government payroll complied with the most basic work performance rules of coming to work on time and providing notice of absences.”

Lip service to evidence

The FSGB paid this evidence lip service in the section of its decision summarizing the plaintiff’s claims, see id. at 405, but the Board did not refer to it, let alone grapple with it, in deciding that the AFI concerning the counseling session was not falsely prejudicial for completely omitting any reference to the events giving rise to the counseling session or the context, in which even before the plaintiff’s arrival, the Dubai office had such deficient management that the CPS was able to develop and engage in a pattern of poor work behavior.

Fails to connect rationally …

That prior agency management in Dubai allowed such poor work habits to persist likely made the plaintiff’s effort to enforce the most basic workplace rules more difficult and makes it all the more impressive that the plaintiff was, apparently, ultimately successful in reining in the CPS’s behavior. See, e.g., AR at 42 (noting that after the plaintiff spoke with the CPS about her “apparent pattern of abusing sick leave, . . . there were no further incidents of suspected leave abuse during the rating period”). As the FSGB itself has noted, a supervisor will “almost inevitabl[y]” have “a difficult relationship” with an employee when the supervisor “is trying to effect changes” in the employee’s behavior. FSGB Op. 2006-052 at 13.

Read in full below:

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Snapshot: Foreign Service Grievance Board Annual Report 2016 – Statistics

Posted: 1:19 am ET
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Via fsgb.gov

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