You might not expect to get suspended and demoted for unpaid parking fees, but that’s what happened to one federal employee. The employee was a GS-13 Protective Service Specialist who had failed to pay roughly $5,000 in parking fees. For his actions, he received a 60-day suspension and a demotion to GS-12 status.
According to the court records, the man didn’t contest the charges. Instead, he argued the penalty was too harsh. He made this argument in his oral reply to the deciding official, the Administrative Judge with the MSPB and the Court of Appeals. But the court disagreed, stating the man had failed to show that his punishment was somehow inappropriate.
The ruling outlines the standards for a successful appeal
In its decision, the court wrote that it “must affirm” any decision from the MSPB unless the Board:
- Made an arbitrary or poor decision that did not follow the law
- Did not follow the proper procedures
- Could not support its decision with “substantial evidence”
The court also wrote that it would support any judgment that followed a fair decision, unless that judgment:
- Exceeded the accepted range of punishments, as defined by laws and regulations
- Was so “harsh and unconscionably disproportionate to the offense” that it became abusive
The employee had argued the punishment was too harsh. He said it didn’t account for his “genuine remorse” or years of good service. But his argument didn’t carry any weight with the Court of Appeals. Instead, the decision highlights the need for federal employees to focus their efforts on effective replies earlier in the process, even during the investigation.
Could the employee have made a different, more effective argument?
The court’s decision shows how the Protective Service Specialist acted several times to defend himself:
- He replied to the deciding official
- He appealed to the MSPB
- He appealed to the Federal District
At each stage, he had the opportunity to argue his case. But at each stage, the decision went against him, and the MSPB and Court of Appeals both cited materials from the earlier stages.
This calls out the importance of your earliest actions. Employees facing disciplinary actions want to frame their arguments with a clear view of the law and the court’s expectations. When the employee in this case was replying to the deciding official, he wanted a response that would anticipate the MSPB’s involvement. And the Court of Appeals. An attorney experienced in federal employment law may have been able to help the employee reply to the deciding official in a way that could help his later appeals.