Do You Have an Uzi?

This federal employee who worked for the Postal Service apparently intentionally flunked a required training program and asked if one of the instructors had an Uzi. The employee had three prior suspensions and was fired for this one. It went to federal court for resolution.

A Roanoke, Virginia Postal Service employee who got into hot water with the agency after he apparently intentionally flunked a required training program was unsuccessful in getting first the Merit Systems Protection Board and now the appeals court to overturn his firing by the agency. (Saunders v. United States Postal Service, C.A.F.C. No. 2008-3276 (nonprecedential), 2/13/09)

According to the court’s decision, Saunders was a PS-11 Electronic Technician who was dispatched to an ink jet printer course in Norman, Oklahoma.

When he was to take the final exam he told three of the course instructors that he was going to fail the course even though all he had to do was answer 5 out of 20 questions correctly to pass. The instructors testified that Saunders told them he was going to fail on purpose because of a disagreement with his supervisor and he asked if one of them had an “Uzi.” Saunders was told on the spot that joking about weapons was inappropriate. Saunders then turned in a blank answer sheet within about a minute of sitting down to take the test. (Opinion, pp. 1-2)

When confronted by the agency, Saunders admitted the Uzi remark but claimed it was a joke. He denied failing the course on purpose and claimed he simply could not concentrate during the exam.

Building on three prior disciplinary suspensions, the agency proposed his removal based on improper conduct and unsatisfactory performance. Saunders met with the deciding official to give an oral reply to the notice. This is the first time he brought up the argument that he could not concentrate during the exam because he had failed to bring his medicines with him to Oklahoma and that he had a problem with flying which contributed to his conduct. (p. 3)

The agency removed Saunders and he took his case to the MSPB. The Board held a hearing, numerous witnesses were called—including instructors from the training course—and the Board concluded that the agency had supported Saunders’ removal.

Saunders took his case to the federal appeals court, but had no better luck there. The court held that the Board’s decision was supported by substantial evidence and refused to overturn Saunders’ removal. (p. 8)

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.