The FSGB found that the State Department committed in prohibited personnel practice (“PPP”) violation of 5 U.S.C. § 2302(b)(4) against an FS employee stationed overseas when it coerced his curtailment from post. The Board also found that the curtailment in this case failed to comply with 3 FAM 2443.2. This case is horrifying in how carelessly embassy officials can chuck anyone out the airlock.
According to the FSGB ROP, the Department questioned “whether 5 U.S.C § 2302 applies to Foreign Service Officers, because Title 5 of the U. S. Code applies only to Civil Service Employees.15 However, it concludes that, assuming the provision applies, there is no evidence to support the finding of a violation”.
The Board’s decision says “we address the Department’s question of whether Foreign Service Officers are protected against prohibited personnel practices. […] Under Section 105 (b)(2)(B)(4) of the Foreign Service Act of 1980, all FS members are free from any personnel practice prohibited by 5 U.S.C. § 2302. […] we find that PPP protections apply to Foreign Service Officers under Section 105 of the FSA.
The oldest executive agency then argued before the Grievance Board that the Senior Regional Security Officer’s alleged statement that “all this would go away,” while putting his hand on the investigatory file, “could have merely meant the file itself would be gone or that the Ambassador’s determination to involuntarily curtail him would be obviated by his decision to voluntarily curtail.”
And get this, the Department concludes that the “vague statement” by the SRSO was not deceitful.”
The Department also argued that grievant has “failed to meet his burden to show that the SRSO knew that his statement was untrue or that he acted with an intent to mislead grievant.”
Then covering all its bases — “even assuming that the statement was deceitful, the Department contends that Section 2302(b)(4) only applies to “competition for employment,” which is limited to hiring and promotions and does not apply to the retention of employment.14 Although curtailment is an assignment, it is not a process of hiring or promotion.”
The Department agreed that “it committed a harmless error of its curtailment procedures.”
It sure wasn’t “harmless” on the affected employee and his family, was it?
The FSGB did not buy it.
“It is clear that the Board’s analysis found that the SRSO engaged in deceit. The statute prohibits “deceit or willful obstruction.” While obstruction is defined as willful, the drafters did not see a need to use the adjective with deceit. Deceit is willful; it is not negligent or inadvertent.“
The Board includes “deceit” in the footnotes:
26 Black’s Law Dictionary (10th ed, 2014) defines deceit: “1. The act of intentionally leading someone to believe something that is not true; an act designed to deceive or trick. 2. A false statement of fact made by a person knowingly or recklessly (i.e., not caring whether it is true or false) with the intent that someone else will act on it. 3. A tort arising from a false representation made knowingly or recklessly with the intent that another person should detrimentally rely on it.”
On curtailments, the Department notes that “under 3 FAM 2443.2(a), the Chief of Mission (COM) has discretion to determine curtailment when it would be in the best interest of the post. While the COM must follow procedures, there is no evidentiary standard, and the curtailment procedures do not require the same rigor as the disciplinary process.”
The Department then makes a shocking or maybe not really a shocking admission:
“..there were serious allegations against grievant, and the COM was not required to determine whether they were true, but only if the curtailment was in the best interests of the post.”
Wait, what? So anyone could make a claim, state an allegation, anyone could start a rumor, and COM is not required to determine whether they were true? How bonkers is that?
Via Record of Proceedings
FSGB Case No. 2019–030 | September 29, 2021
The Department’s MFR seeks reconsideration of the Order on two grounds. The first ground for reconsideration is that the Department claims that the Board committed “clear error” by failing to find evidence of two essential elements of a prohibited personnel practice (“PPP”), in violation of 5 U.S.C. § 2302(b)(4), despite finding that the Department committed a PPP. The missing elements, according to the Department, are – a willful or deliberate deception and a competition for a position. The second basis for reconsideration is that the Department claims that the Board committed “clear error” by conflating the curtailment and discipline procedures when it failed to remand to the Department the question of whether it would have curtailed grievant absent the procedural error by failing to follow the Department’s curtailment regulations.
Grievant, an FS-02 Security Engineering Officer (“SEO”), served as the Deputy Officer in Charge (“DOIC”) of the Department’s Engineering Services Office (“ESO”) at the U.S. Embassy in REDACTED (“post”) from August 2016 to January 18, 2017. His rater was the Officer-in-Charge (“OIC”), and his reviewer was the Senior Regional Security Officer (“SRSO”).
The incident that led to a preliminary investigation of the grievant and, subsequently, an in-depth investigation of him by the Office of Civil Rights (“S/OCR”), is an alleged threat made by grievant at the end of December 2016. On January 10, 2017,1 a supervisee claimed that grievant had made an implied threat of physical violence to him, and the SRSO assigned the Assistant Regional Security Officer (“the ARSO”) to investigate and notified the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (“DS”), Office of Special Investigation (“DS/DO/OSI”). On January 12, post management briefed the Ambassador, who decided to exercise his authority under 16 STATE 27226 to curtail grievant from post. Later that day, January 12, the SRSO, grievant’s reviewing officer, held a meeting with grievant, two Human Resource Officers, and grievant’s rater and told grievant that the Ambassador had decided that he would be involuntarily curtailed if he did not voluntarily curtail, and if he voluntarily curtailed, “all of this,” gesturing to the investigative file, “would go away and it would be as if he had been curtailed for family reasons.”2
But the investigation did not, in fact, “go away.”
On January 14, the ARSO issued an RSO Report, which the Accountability and Suitability Board (“A&SB”), which included the SRSO, discussed that day with the Ambassador. The case was referred to the Department of State’s Office of Civil Rights (S/OCR) that same day. On January 16, the Management Counselor prepared a Decision Memorandum (“Decision Memo”) in Support of No-Fault Curtailment, which was sent to the front office. A day later, on January 17, grievant met with the HRO at post and formally accepted a “voluntary curtailment,” and management approved his request that day. On January 18, Grievant curtailed without having been advised of the ARSO’s report or of the referrals to S/OCR and to
GTM/ER proposed to suspend grievant on a single charge of Improper Comments, with three specifications. The Deciding Official (“DO”) sustained only two of these specifications, both dealing with alleged threats. With the dismissal of the third specification, all potential EEO violations were dismissed. The DO reduced the penalty from a two-day to a one-day suspension.”5
Grievant filed an agency-level grievance, alleging that the one-day suspension violated regulations; that his 2017 Employee Evaluation Report (“EER”) contained a falsely prejudicial statement based on the charge; that the RSO Report contained a falsely prejudicial statement that he had been counseled for anger management; that his curtailment was coerced and unlawful under 12 STATE 27212 (“Curtailment of Employee Based on Conduct or Disciplinary Issues”); and that his assignment to a non-supervisory, overcomplement6 position was based on a PPP. The grievance was denied by the Department.
Board found that the Department committed a PPP, in violation of 5 U.S.C. § 2302(b)(4). […]Moreover, even without the PPP finding, the Board found that the curtailment failed to comply with 3 FAM 2443.2, and the Department does not challenge that finding.
By inducing grievant’s “voluntary curtailment” on an unenforceable assurance, post avoided going through the procedural safeguards of 3 FAM 2443.2, which apply to voluntary curtailments that are initiated at the request of the COM. What the Department does not acknowledge is that the SRSO (importantly, grievant’s reviewing official, the official who had directed the ARSO’s investigation and notified DS/DO/OSI and a member of the A&SB advising the Ambassador) told grievant that if he voluntarily curtailed, it would be “as if he curtailed for family reasons.” That would mean a curtailment under 3 FAM 2443.1 with no prospect of discipline.
The Board denied in full the Department’s Second Motion for Reconsideration and issued six other orders related to back pay, reconstituted Selection Boards, promotion, and interest on back pay.
The Board ordered remedies for violations of 3 FAM 2443.2 and 5 U.S.C. § 2302(b)(4) , remedies for falsely prejudicial language in Grievant’s EER; attorney’s fees request is held in abeyance until final resolution of the remedies.
The remedies ordered include:
2. The Department shall pay grievant “an amount equal to all, or any part of the pay, allowances, or differentials [including overtime], as applicable, which [he] normally would have earned or received” during the period of 18 ½ months of the remainder of his posting at post, had he not been improperly curtailed, less any amounts he earned through other employment during that period, pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 5596(b)(1)(A)(i), 5 C.F.R. 550, Subpart H..
4. The Department shall hold four reconstituted Selection Boards for the years when grievant’s OPF contained the uncorrected 2017 EER.
5. If grievant is promoted by any of the reconstituted SBs, the promotion should beretroactive to the date a promotion would have been implemented by the SB for which it was reconstituted. The Department shall pay the wage differential from the date of any retroactive promotion.
6. The Department shall pay interest on any back pay awards due under this order.
The conduct of these government representatives at this post should be labeled “notoriously disgraceful conduct”. And the State Department should be shamed for defending this type of unacceptable behavior. Oh, please don’t tell us these people all got promoted!
Note: Depending on the browser you’re using, the FSGB cases may not be available to read online; each record may need to be downloaded to be accessible. With Firefox browser, however, you may select “open with Firefox” if you want to read the case file, or save the file to your computer. Please use the search button here to locate specific FSGB records.