Supervisor Demoted for Changing Records on Employees’ Work Time

A supervisor who changed records to show that employees were coming in before their scheduled time of work got fired. An appeals court says that is a reasonable penalty.

The appeals court has passed on the opportunity to overturn the demotion of a Postal Supervisor at the Burlington Station in Knoxville, Tennessee. (Davis v. United States Postal Service, C.A.F.C. No. 2007-3255, 12/10/07)

Davis was responsible for supervising mail carriers. His duties included making sure that all carriers returned to the station and clocked in by 5 PM each day. An agency audit of these "clock ring" entries found that Davis had changed a substantial number (17) of the records to show that carriers had clocked in at 5 or earlier when in fact they had clocked in after 5. Not taking too kindly to this, the agency demoted Davis from his supervisory position for unsatisfactory work performance. (Opinion pp. 1-2)

In his appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board, Davis argued that the changes he made were proper because he did them when the carrier had actually returned before 5 but clocked in after 5. The Administrative Judge discounted Davis’ testimony based on other evidence—including testimony of carriers—to the contrary. Since he found that Davis had abused his supervisory authority to alter important agency data, the AJ found that the demotion was a reasonable penalty. (pp. 3-4)

Davis took his case to the Federal Circuit which has now ruled against him. Pointing out that the Board’s determinations on witness credibility were "virtually unreviewable," the court brushed aside Davis’ argument that the agency had failed to prove its case. (pp. 4-5)

As for Davis’ argument that to demote him for this conduct was "disparate" since other supervisors had done the same thing and not been demoted, the court was unpersuaded: "We reject this argument." The court declines to overturn an agency penalty "unless it is outrageously disproportionate to the offense." (p. 5)

In short, the court has affirmed the Board and the agency.

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.