In a rare huge win for Veterans Affairs workers, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit recently ruled that the 2017 VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act didn’t protect the agency’s right to retroactively apply the law to discipline employees or protect its disciplinary actions from appeal.
In effect, the ruling has the potential to overturn many cases where the VA used the law to protect its disciplinary actions – such as employment termination – from review.
Until now, the door had effectively been open for the VA to impose Draconian punishments for lesser infractions with relative impunity. Before the court ruled against the VA, this left only the facts that led up to its disciplinary actions up to scrutiny, not the type or severity of punishment.
To use an extreme example as an illustration: If the VA fired an employee for stealing a stapler, scrutiny could only be directed toward whether or not the employee actually stole the stapler – not whether or not firing someone over a stolen stapler was a reasonable course of action.
The case that sparked this decision, however, did not involve office supplies theft. As detailed in a recently published article, at issue in Sayers v. VA was the agency’s decision fire Jeffrey Sayers – a VA pharmacist in the Los Angeles area – for allegedly failing to correct an issue with a patient record system he used to fill prescriptions.
“VA found the alleged negligence harmed two veterans,” reported Government Executive on March 31. “Sayers was subsequently cited for alleged violations such as using expired equipment and not properly locking away pharmaceuticals. He has denied all the charges against him.”
Although these events allegedly took place prior to the passage of the 2017 VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, the VA retroactively applied the law to fire Sayers. Not doing so, the VA argued, would have given Sayers the right to keep his job despite engaging in misconduct or poor performance – issues
Championed by President Donald Trump and a bipartisan gaggle of its supporters, the 2017 law makes it easier to discipline federal workers employed by the VA by cutting some of the red tape around the process. In Sayers’ case, however, the appeals court said the VA didn’t need to apply the law retroactively if it wanted to remove him for his alleged misconduct.
Sayers successfully argued the VA had violated right to due process as a civil servant by using the law to preclude his ability to appeal employment termination as a reasonable punishment for his alleged misconduct.
In the end, Sayers got his job back thanks to the court’s decision, and many more VA employees terminated in a similar way may be able to fight for a similar outcome.
Did You Lose Your Job Because of the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act?
If what happened to Jeffrey Sayers sound similar to why you were recently fired from the VA, you may be able to get your employment reinstated. At Pines Federal, we worked with federal government workers like those at the VA to assert their rights.
If you weren’t allowed to appeal the VA’s punishment against you, contact Pines Federal online or call (800) 801-0598 for help.