Misuse of Travel Card, AWOL and Failing to Follow Leave Procedures Leads to Removal

A Department of Education employee was transferred but apparently kept using the travel card after her travel authorization expired. She also didn’t report for work at the new location. She was fired and filed an appeal arguing she was a whistleblower. Neither the Court nor the MSPB found that argument convincing.

A Department of Education employee, fired for misusing government funds and absence without approved leave (AWOL), was not able to convince the appeals court to order her reinstated. (Stribling v. Department of Education, C.A.F.C. No. 2008-3336 (nonprecedential), 2/5/09) The facts are as outlined in the court’s decision.

Stribling was a secretary in the agency’s Philadelphia Office of Student Aid. She was officially transferred to Washington, D.C. and given an agency credit card to cover her relocation expenses. She continued to use the card for three weeks beyond the expiration of her travel authorization to pay for housing and other expenses. (Opinion pp. 1-2)

Stribling also failed to report for work after her move, telling her supervisor she has suffered a medical emergency and asking for unpaid leave. Leave was granted for a specific period of time, conditioned upon Stribling furnishing medical documentation. She did not provide the documentation and the supervisor gave her an order to report for work on a date certain. Stribling did not report on that date and made no effort to contact her supervisor to request leave. She showed up about 3 weeks after the date certain. (p 2)

The agency removed Stribling on charges of AWOL, failure to follow required leave request procedures, and misuse of a government travel card. The Merit Systems Protection Board held a hearing and concluded that the agency had proved all three charges. The Board affirmed Stribling’s removal. (p. 2)

The Federal Circuit Court of Appeals declined to overturn Stribling’s removal, finding “nothing that contradicts the Board’s findings.” (p. 3)

As for Stribling’s affirmative defense of retaliation for whistleblowing, the court points out that the alleged whistleblowing occurred 2 years before her removal. Further, it involved the Philadelphia office. As the court explained, “Stribling neither explained at the Board nor explains on appeal how her disclosures concerning managers in the Philadelphia office could have been the cause of her termination two years later by different managers in the Washington, D.C. office.” (p. 5)

Bottom line: Stribling’s removal stands.

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.