Ex-postal worker's case lost in mail

When the U.S. Postal Service went through a nationwide reorganization in 1992 and 1993 Russell Crandall and 88 other "preference-eligible" (veteran) employees were demoted. The group of 89 appealed their demotions to the Merit Systems Protection Board.

The MSPB reversed the Postal Service's action ruling that the 89 were not accorded their reduction in force (RIF) rights as described in the section of the Code of Federal Regulations that pertains to preference-eligible employees. The board ordered USPS to restore the employees to their former positions and provide each with "back pay interest on back pay and other benefits under postal regulations."

On Oct. 11 1994 Crandall filed a petition for enforcement of the MSPB order as it applied to him. The board granted Crandall's position and gave USPS detailed instructions about how to comply with the order. The MSPB judge who handled the case said that because Crandall had retired from the agency on Feb. 26 1994 "the agency's compliance is limited to paper transactions to determine the appellant's correct status/position on the date of his retirement."

In May 1995 USPS responded to the MSPB. To comply with the decision and reemploy the improperly demoted employees the agency apparently conducted a RIF to open up the vacancies that were needed. But it asserted that it was not necessary to include Crandall in the nationwide "compliance RIF " because he retired in February 1994.

On Nov. 1 1995 the MSPB judge issued the following notice to Crandall: "You may respond to the agency's assertion of compliance within 15 days of the date of this order.... If no response is filed with the board within 15 days of the date of this order the board will assume that all parties are satisfied and will dismiss your petition for enforcement as moot."

On Dec. 11 the MSPB dismissed Crandall's petition as moot because Crandall did not respond to the judge's notice. But Crandall apparently wasn't satisfied with the disposition and took the board to court. He contended that he had not received the Nov. 1 notice from the judge and that his retirement from USPS in February 1994 was involuntary.

Court Backs MSPB

The court noted that the government could not prove that Crandall did not get the judge's Nov. 1 notice but there was evidence that the notice was sent to Crandall's home address. The government sent an earlier decision to the same address and Crandall did not dispute having received it.

The court also noted that Crandall's earlier demotion included indefinite saved-grade and indefinite saved-pay so he suffered no financial loss as a result.

For the above reasons the court felt there was no basis for overturning the MSPB's dismissal of Crandall's appeal. (U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit 96-3112. Russell G. Crandall v. U.S. Postal Service decided May 10 1996)

Blame the Messenger?

The irony here is that part of the counterclaim brought by Crandall involves the issue of whether or not he received a notice allegedly delivered by USPS the same agency that had demoted him improperly in the first place. It may very well be true that Crandall never received the judge's notice. I would not bet my mortgage on the reliability of USPS to deliver mail.

I'm also bothered by the precedent established by this case.

In litigation between private citizens and government agencies citizens must carry the burden of proof that they have sent something such as a check to the Internal Revenue Service to the government. If the IRS says it didn't receive the check the citizen must show that he sent it ordinarily by sending correspondence via certified or registered mail. You would think that the MSPB would use similar delivery vehicles in matters of such import. Otherwise they have no defense against claims from individuals who say they never received various communications from the board. Instead of requiring the MSPB to prove that it sent the correspondence to Crandall the court said it was up to Crandall to prove that he did not receive it. I would like to know what precedent the court relied upon to reach that conclusion.

On the other hand Crandall suffered no financial loss so I'm not sure what he was trying to accomplish. Did he want to go back to work for USPS? If not this is much ado about nothing.

Bureaucratus is a retired federal employee who is a regular contributor to Federal Computer Week.

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