(WASHINGTON, D.C.)—The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) has filed a lawsuit against the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) over a ruling that denies medical professionals access to their negotiated grievance procedure when challenging personnel actions based on discrimination.
A DVA physician—represented by AFGE Local 2152—was stripped of duties entitling him to specialty pay. Believing that the decisions leading to the loss of duties and salary were prompted by age discrimination, the physician filed a grievance alleging unlawful discrimination. Before the merits of the physician’s grievance could be addressed, DVA Under Secretary for Health barred further pursuit of the grievance citing a 1991 law. (The 1991 law allows the DVA to exempt grievances by medical professional employees, such as registered nurses and physicians, from the grievance procedure of a union contract in very narrow circumstances.)
The lawsuit alleges that the DVA has violated, misused and misinterpreted the 1991 law. AFGE has ample grounds for having the Court overturn the Under Secretary's action. Access to the grievance procedure of a union contract by employees victimized by unlawful discrimination has long been recognized in law. Nothing in the 1991 law suggests that the practice was to be altered for the discrimination claims of medical professionals.
Moreover, the 1991 law only insulates from the grievance procedure DVA decision-making concerning the manner of health care delivery. The physician's grievance challenges the absence of health care delivery considerations as the result of the DVA's decisions to withdraw certain of the physician's duties, and to thereby reduce his pay.
Perhaps the greatest folly in the DVA's action is shown by the ‘logical’ extension of DVA's thinking. If a grievance can be removed from coverage under the union contract simply because the employee's grievance concerns duties involving health care, no DVA medical professional employee could ever challenge any personnel action under the union contract on discrimination grounds. AFGE's position is that a wholesale assault on the rights of employees to challenge unlawful discrimination must be challenged whenever it occurs.
The suit has been filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada. AFGE Local 2152 et al. v. Principi and Roswell, Case No. CV-N-02-0379 (D.Nev.). AFGE is hopeful that a decision can be issued by the U.S. District Court early in 2003.
AFGE, the largest federal employees union, represents over 140,000 DVA employees. For a copy of AFGE’s lawsuit, log onto www.afge.org.
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest federal employee union, representing 700,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia.