Shoplifting and the Federal Employee

Does a federal employee have to be convicted of a crime to be fired for shoplifting?

The Court of Appeals has backed the Air Force and the Merit Systems Protection Board in the removal of a GS-11 criminal investigator who was arrested for shoplifting. (Phillips v. Department of the Air Force, C.A.F.C. No. 05-3160, October 11, 2005)

Ms. Phillips switched price tags while shopping and as a result paid $100 less than the originally marked price for a Coach leather wallet. Store security detained her and notified Ft. Belvoir, Virginia, Military Police, who apprehended Ms. Phillips for shoplifting. The Air Force removed her from her position. She appealed to the MSPB.

The AJ sustained the charge and found that the removal was justified. The full Board agreed. (Phillips v. Dep’t of the Air Force, No. AT-0752-03-0922-I-1 (M.S.P.B. Feb. 18, 2005)). Ms. Phillips appealed to the Federal Circuit but got the same result there.

She argued that the Board decision should be overturned because the criminal charges against her had been dismissed. She made no argument that the Board committed legal errors. The court pointed out that she bears the burden of establishing that the Board erred, and the court can only overturn the Board unless it is found to be arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion or otherwise not in accordance with law; obtained by improper procedures; or unsupported by substantial evidence.

Because Ms. Phillips failed to establish error, the court affirmed the Board’s decision and she remains removed. (Opinion, pp. 2-3)

The decision of the MSPB Administrative Judge in this case is here.

About the Author

Susan McGuire Smith spent most of her federal legal career with NASA, serving as Chief Counsel at Marshall Space Flight Center for 14 years. Her expertise is in government contracts, ethics, and personnel law.