Threats by IRS Employee To Have Former Spouse Audited Justify Removal Says Court

The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upholds a decision by the IRS to fire an employee for making a threat against a taxpayer even though the employee was not on duty.

The American public often fears the Internal Revenue Service. An audit can destroy lives or at least financial security and the agency has unique authority to seize property and assets.

The agency is obviously aware of this and employees who abuse the power for personal reasons can be given the boot quickly.

The authority of the agency to take action against an employee who makes a threat has been reviewed and upheld in the Federal Circuit court. In this new case, an employee of the Internal Revenue Service was having a dispute with her former husband regarding the children of the divorced couple.

The employee, Mary Rose Tablerion, left a message on her husband’s answering machine that told him she would inform the IRS to audit his tax returns if he did not return to her some forms she wanted.

Her former husband reported the remark to the IRS Inspector General. The result was the agency fired the employee. The employee was charged with violating the Internal Revenue Service Reform and Restructuring Act of 1998. This act prohibits an IRS employee from “threatening to audit a taxpayer for the purpose of extracting personal gain or benefit.”

The employee’s union took the case to arbitration. The arbitrator overturned the firing of the employee. Reasoning that the statute was ambiguous and penal, the arbitrator concluded that the employee did not have the authority to audit her former husband’s tax return and, therefore, did not make the threat in the performance of her official duties.

Using logic that will be hard for most readers to follow, the arbitrator also concluded that the statement did not constitute a threat that was sufficient to justify removal. (You can download the entire case decision and read it at your leisure from the link on the left hand side of this page.)

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) appealed the arbitrator’s decision to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals. The Federal Circuit agreed with OPM and overturned the arbitrator’s decision.

The Court said that “Congress intended to prevent all IRS employees from using the prospect of an audit to seek a personal benefit. Nothing in the legislative history expressly limits the application of the relevant sections to only employees who are on-duty at the time they engage in prohibited conduct.”

In other words, even though Mary Rose Tablerion was not on duty when she made the threat, contrary to the arbitrator’s decision, this was not significant.

The Court also ruled the legislative history of the statute makes it clear that “… Congress felt an urgent need to protect the integrity of the IRS by preventing all IRS employees from making any threats to audit taxpayers, when those threats, as in this case, are for the personal gain of the person making the threat.”

In short, the Court ruled that the IRS had the authority to properly fire the employee wheen she threatened to have a taxpayer audited in order to extract a personal gain from the person who was threatened.

Anyone involved in these types of cases will want to read this decision of the Court. The Court explains why a leading case that involves threats made by a federal employee (known as the Metzcase) are not applicable in this instance.

You can download the entire case decision from the link on the left hand side of this page.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47