An Unpleasant Option Isn’t the Same as Being Fired

A trainee with the Social Security Administration had a permanent job lined up after she graduated from college. When she did not graduate on time, the permanent job went up in smoke. She resigned and then appealed contending the agency coerced her resignation.

A Social Security Administration student trainee could not convince the Merit Systems Protection Board or the Federal Circuit that she had resigned involuntarily when confronted by the agency with termination for failure to meet eligibility requirements for a permanent position. (Ide v. Merit Systems Protection Board and Social Security Administration, C.A.F.C. No. 2006-3302 (nonprecedential), 10/10/07)

Ide worked as a trainee with SSA in Savannah, Georgia while she completed her college degree. She had a permanent position lined up, but it required that she first successfully graduate from college. She was on track for an on-time graduation, but learned that she had failed a prerequisite exam and would not be able to earn her degree before starting her permanent position with SSA. She held back on informing the agency until asked—for a third time—by her supervisor about receiving her degree. She finally admitted that she would not be graduating before the report date for her permanent position. (Opinion, p. 2)

SSA notified Ide that she would be terminated since there were no funds to continue her trainee position and she was not eligible for appointment to the permanent position without the degree. She asked about her options, and ended up resigning for “personal reasons” before being terminated. (p. 2)

Four months later, Ide appealed to the MSPB, arguing that her resignation was coerced. The Board found otherwise and held that it did not have jurisdiction since Ide had voluntarily resigned. She took her case to the Federal Circuit. (p. 3)

The court sided with the Board. It pointed out that resignations are assumed to be voluntary and therefore outside the jurisdiction of the Board. While this is rebuttable, Ide did not show that there was “misinformation or deception by the agency,” or that there was agency coercion. In Ide’s case, she had two “unpleasant” options—being removed or resigning, which does not “make the resulting resignation an involuntary act.” (p. 4; citing Schultz v. U.S. Navy, 810 F.2d 1133, 1136 (Fed. Cir. 1987))

Finally, the court had this to say about Ide’s decision to resign: “In resigning, Ms. Ide preserved her good standing to reapply for a future job with the Agency, but sacrificed the procedural protections that are afforded a terminated employee. She cannot now seek relief from the MSPB or this court for this voluntary choice.” (p. 6)

In other words, she cannot have it both ways. Ms. Ide’s resignation was voluntary and therefore the Board properly ruled that it had no jurisdiction over her appeal.

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.