Great Hollywood Action Scenes–But Employee Stays Fired

The charges in this case sound like a scenario from an action adventure novel but the Army was not impressed. The specifications leading to this employee’s removal included failing to turn over a weapon, not getting permission to fly in a restricted military airspace and disobeying air traffic control. The MSPB and a federal court were not impressed either and the employee stays fired.

A civilian pilot fired by the Army has struck out in his bid to get the appeals court to overturn the adverse action. (Doyle v. Department of the Army, C.A.F.C. No. 2007-3326 (nonprecedential), 5/12/08) The facts are as reported by the court.

Doyle worked at Lakehurst, New Jersey. He was put in charge of a mission involving 3 additional team members. The group led by Doyle was testing a radar system on an aircraft that flew from Arizona to Colombia with stops in New Orleans, Key West, Cayman Islands, and Colombia. When Doyle and his team arrived at the final destination in Colombia, he was yanked off the assignment because of charges of misconduct. (Opinion, pp. 1-2)

While Doyle’s actions sound like something out of a Hollywood script, they apparently were not appreciated by his agency. The agency removed Doyle on charges of discourtesy, careless or reckless operation of an aircraft thus endangering people and property, and failure to follow orders. The discourtesy charge involved to several incidents of rudeness by Doyle toward other team members as well as the operation commander.

The unsafe operation charge cited four separate incidents that occurred during the mission—not following air traffic control directions in New Orleans; flying recklessly through a storm in Key West; not following safety procedures on approach to Colombia; and flying recklessly in icing conditions rather than turning back. (pp. 2-3) The failure to follow orders charge cited three specifications—not getting required permission to fly in a restricted military airspace; disobeying air traffic control in Colombia; and failing to turn over his weapon as required when he arrived in Colombia. (p. 3)

Doyle appealed to the Merit Systems Protection Board. Following a hearing, the Administrative Judge threw out a couple of the specifications, but sustained all three charges against him. The AJ concluded that his removal was a reasonable penalty. (p. 3)

Doyle then turned to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals. He attacked the witness credibility determinations of the AJ, but got nowhere with this argument. He also argued that the AJ failed to consider “mental stability and personality problems” in mitigation. However, since he apparently raised this argument for the first time before the appeals court, the court has rejected the argument, ruling that it had to have first been raised before the MSPB.

In short, Doyle got nowhere in his court appeal. He stays fired. (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.