Don't Mess With the HR Office

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By on September 16, 2009 in Court Cases, Current Events with 0 Comments
A fired Architect of the Capitol employee has learned a second time that it is pretty difficult to sue your former bosses for personal damages. (Toms v. Office of the Architect of the Capitol, C.A.D.C. No. 08-338 (RBW), 9/3/09) The facts reported below come straight out of the appeals court’s ruling against the former employee.
Toms was removed from his GS-13 Auditor job as the result of a dispute with Serena Coleman, Director of the Workforce Planning and Management Section of the Human Resources (HR) Department.
The dispute was over bottled water and a cooler that had been made available for use of Toms as well as his office mates. Ms. Coleman moved the water from the kitchen to her outer office. Toms moved the water into his office. Coleman confronted Toms and attempted to move the water back to her outer office, leading to an incident between Toms and Coleman.
When the dust settled, Toms had been arrested and charged with "Simple Assault on the person of Director Coleman." (Opinion pp. 1-3) The U.S. Attorney’s Office eventually made the decision not to prosecute Toms. (p. 3)
Nevertheless, Toms was ordered by his agency not to return to work and placed on administrative leave.
Eventually the agency fired him for charges stemming from the incident. Toms was unsuccessful in his appeal. (pp. 3-5)
In an earlier lawsuit, Toms filed a Bivens action against several AOC bosses and coworkers, meaning he sued them in their personal capacities for damages caused by their violation of his constitutional rights.
What the appeals court refers to as "Toms I" (Toms v. Hantman, No. 05-1981 (D.D.C. Feb 15, 2007), ended in dismissal.
Now, Toms as filed "Toms II" in which he cites among other things the First and Fifth Amendments and the Privileges and Immunities Clause of Article IV of the U. S. Constitution. Again, Toms seeks damages against several agency employees in their personal capacity stemming from their decision to terminate him and what he felt were flaws in the administrative appeals process (pp. 5-6).
Toms has fared no better this time around. The appeals court has recently thrown his case out since it is basically a repeat of his earlier lawsuit. He is not being permitted to get two bites at this apple. (p. 23)

This case shows just how difficult it is to try to hold a co-worker or supervisor liable for actions taken by them in their official capacity. 

© 2020 Susan McGuire Smith. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from Susan McGuire Smith.


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.