Threats Against Co-Workers Lead to Removal

A NASA auditor fired for workplace disturbance and making threatening statements gets no relief from the MSPB or the appeals court.

NASA has a low tolerance for threats and workplace disturbances as evidenced by a recent appeals court case sustaining removal of an employee for this type of behavior. (Pacious v. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, CAFC No. 2011-3215 (nonprecedential) 2/9/12)

Pacious was a GS-13 auditor with the NASA Office of Inspector General. In conversations with co-workers he used these phrases according to the court’s opinion: “Pacious expressed a desire to ‘take out’ the person who ‘was screwing him over at NASA.” He complained “that someone at NASA had ruined a potential job opportunity and that he ‘knew who’d done it’ and was ‘gonna take care of him.’” Finally, he supposedly said “he would kill Kevin Winters, the assistant inspector general.” (Opinion pp. 2-3)

Needless to say, each of the alleged statements was cited as a specification in a notice of proposed removal for making threats. There was a charge of workplace disturbance that stemmed from an incident where Pacious was stopped by security from entering the NASA headquarters facility because his boss had barred him. Unhappy with this development, “Mr. Pacious shoved a chair, yelled at a special agent, and threw his duffel bag against the wall…yanked his duffel bag from the hands of a Federal Protective Service officer, resulting in a scuffle that led to the officers handcuffing Mr. Pacious.” (p. 3)

Once Pacious’ removal was final, he appealed to the Merit Systems Protection Board. The MSPB affirmed the removal and Pacious took his case to court.

The court has declined to second-guess the MSPB’s handling of the appeal and now sustains the removal. In short, the court affirms the agency and the MSPB decisions and Mr. Pacious remains off the rolls.

Most agencies take a very dim view of aggressive, violent or threatening workplace behavior and NASA is certainly no exception. This case shows that the consequences of such behavior can be severe.

Pacious v NASA (2011-3215)

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.