LOCATION:Los Angeles City Hall
DOCKET NO.: 00-758
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
CITATION: 534 US 1 (2001)
ARGUED: Oct 09, 2001
DECIDED: Nov 13, 2001
Gregory G. Garre – Argued the cause for the petitioner
Henk Brands – Argued the cause for the respondent
Facts of the case
Maria Gregory worked for the United States Postal Service as a letter technician with responsibility for overseeing letter carriers on five mail routes and serving as a replacement carrier on those routes. In 1997, while three disciplinary actions that the Postal Service took against Gregory were pending in grievance proceedings pursuant to the Postal Service’s collective bargaining agreement with her union, the Postal Service terminated Gregory’s employment after a fourth violation. Gregory then appealed to the Merit Systems Protection Board, where an agency must prove its charge by a preponderance of the evidence, proving not only that the misconduct occurred, but also that the penalty assessed is reasonable in relation to it. Analyzing her three prior disciplinary actions independently, an Administrative Law Judge concluded that Gregory’s termination was reasonable in light of her four violations. Ultimately, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held that prior disciplinary actions subject to ongoing proceedings may not be used to support a penalty’s reasonableness.
Must the Merit Systems Protection Board adopt the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruling that, when assessing a penalty’s reasonableness, the Board may not consider prior disciplinary actions that are pending in collectively bargained grievance proceedings?
Media for United States Postal Service v. Gregory
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – November 13, 2001 in United States Postal Service v. Gregory
William H. Rehnquist:
The opinion of the Court No. 00-758 United States Postal Service versus Gregory will be announced by Justice O’Connor.
Sandra Day O’Connor:
This case comes to us on a writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
After four disciplinary actions were taken against her, the respondent was terminated from her employment at the United States Postal Service.
At the time of the termination, the first three of the disciplinary actions were the subject of ongoing grievance procedures pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement between the Postal Service and respondent’s union.
The respondent appealed her termination to the Merit Systems Protection Board, which rather than holding off review of the three actions pending, the outcome of the grievance proceedings, the Board went ahead and reviewed the actions independently under the framework set forth in its case of Bolling versus the Department of the Air Force.
During the Board’s review process, the respondent’s first grievance was resolved in her favor but petitioner did not inform the Board which found her termination to be reasonable.
On review, the Federal Circuit held that the Board may never rely on disciplinary actions that are pending in grievance proceedings in determining the reasonableness of a penalty on appeal to the Board.
We hold that the Board need not hold off its review pending the outcome of union grievance procedures.
It may instead review disciplinary actions pending in grievance independently.
Such independent review meets the Civil Service Reform Act’s requirement that the Board’s actions not be arbitrary capricious and abusive discretion or otherwise not in accordance with law.
No one has suggested that the Board has applied its independent review policy arbitrarily or that it lacks reasons for its approach, nor independent Board review contrary to any law.
If the review under the Board’s precedent in the Bolling case is itself adequate, a question which is not before us, then the Postal Service may need its burden of proof under the Civil Service Reform Act by prevailing either before the Board or in the grievance proceedings.
The Board’s statutory authority to review serious disciplinary actions taken against workers covered by the Act must include the authority to independently review the more minor disciplinary actions upon which the serious actions are based.
And the Board’s independent review may reach a different result than that reached in grievance proceedings, but this is merely the result of the parallel review systems established by the Civil Service Reform Act.
Because the Board’s practice is not to rely on disciplinary actions instead of already been overturned in grievance proceedings, however, we remand to the Federal Circuit to determine the effect of the resolution of respondent’s first grievance on the Board’s decision.
Justice Thomas has filed a concurring opinion; Justice Ginsburg has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment.