(Washington, D.C.)—In a significant victory for federal employees, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit sided with AFGE and reversed a decision by the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB)—Knight v. Department of Defense, No. 02-3368 (June 19, 2003).
In its decision, the Federal Circuit confirmed AFGE’s position that an earlier court decision—Harants v. U.S.Postal Service, 130 F.3d 1446 (Fed. Cir. 1997)—applies to all federal workers throughout the executive branch, not just postal workers as the MSPB Chair had indicated in her opinion. Generally, federal employees who are demoted pursuant to a reduction in force (RIF) are entitled to certain benefits and limited rights to challenge the RIF before the MSPB. In Harants, the Federal Circuit held that an employee who voluntarily applies for a lower-graded position is nevertheless considered demoted for RIF purposes if the assignment was made after the agency informed the employee that his position was abolished and that he was not selected for assignment to another position.
“Given the Federal Circuit’s historically low rate of reversals of MSPB decisions, this decision represents a significant victory for federal employees,” stated AFGE National President Bobby L. Harnage, Sr. “It protects the rights of individual employees facing hard choices in a RIF, and reinforces AFGE’s ability to negotiate meaningful relief for bargaining unit employees impacted by a reorganization of their agency.
In Knight v. Department of Defense, a GS-11 Telecommunications Specialist at the Defense Megacenter in Rock Island, Ill. received a RIF notice in October 1998 informing her that her position was abolished and her separation would be effective in February 1999 due to a reorganization involving the elimination of all 225 Megacenter data processing positions and consolidation of these functions into 74 positions at a new St. Louis facility. After receiving that notice, but before the actual date of separation, Ms. Knight applied for, and was offered, a GS-5 position at the new facility—one of seven positions created as a result of negotiations between the agency and AFGE Local 15 to minimize the adverse impact of the reorganization on bargaining unit employees.
Although initially treating the action as a RIF demotion, the Defense Department ultimately took the position that because the employee voluntarily applied for the position, the reassignment was not pursuant to a RIF; and, therefore, the employee was not entitled to RIF protections. Represented by AFGE Local 15, the employee appealed the denial of benefits to the MSPB, which ruled that it did not have jurisdiction over her claim because she voluntarily applied for the lower-graded position.
AFGE appealed the MSPB ruling to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, which agreed with AFGE that the MSPB erred in refusing jurisdiction and ordered that the case be remanded back to the MSPB for a ruling on the merits of the employee’s claim.
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.