Government Phones and Personal Calls

An employee who spent about 13 minutes an hour on the phone (623 calls in one 47 hour period) found himself reprimanded, suspended and then fired. He claimed the agency lied and that he should not be fired because he had been a federal employee for a long time.

A financial clerk with the Pensacola office of the Defense Finance Accounting Service fired for misuse of the government telephone was unable to convince the Federal Circuit to overturn his removal. (Griffin v. Department of Defense, C.A.F.C. No. 2006-3319 (nonprecedential), 8/17/07)

Mr. Griffin apparently liked to spend a lot of time on the agency’s telephone. When co-workers complained about his "loud" and "foul" words overheard while he was on the phone, the agency investigated. It found that in about a one-month period, Griffin made over 650 personal calls and spent an average of 13 minutes every hour on the phone. This led to counseling and a formal reprimand. Following the reprimand, Griffin made 623 calls in a 47-hour period. This resulted in a 14-day suspension. (Opinion, p. 2)

Apparently unable to contain himself, Griffin continued his telephone abuse and the agency fired him for it.

Griffin appealed to the Merit Systems Protection Board. He stipulated to these facts: that his job did not require him to even use the telephone, that all of his telephone use would have been for personal calls, and basically that he is the one who made the calls. Nevertheless, he defended by arguing that his supervisors had lied about his telephone usage and what had happened in their meetings with Griffin on the topic. The Administrative Judge found Griffin’s testimony to lack credibility in that it was evasive, inconsistent, and lacking in specifics as what specifically his supervisors had supposedly lied about. In short, the Board sustained Griffin’s removal. (p. 2)

When he got to the appeals court, Griffin did not contest the charge or the facts. He instead argued that the penalty of removal was not supportable given his performance and tenure with the agency. (p. 3)

The court found that the Board had taken Griffin’s record into account. It also pointed out that the Board had considered "Mr. Griffin’s lack of remorse for his conduct, and the failure of repeated efforts on the part of the Agency to solve the problem with less drastic means than removal." In short, the court now sustains the MSPB and upholds Griffin’s removal. (p. 3)

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.