“Confused and in a Fog” or Lack of Candor?

This case shows how trying to hide misconduct can end up compounding an employee’s woes.

An Administrative Officer for Federal Aviation Administration in Oakland got in hot water when the agency found out he was not forthcoming to his supervisor when confronted with possible misconduct. In Wyrick v Department of Transportation (CAFC No. 2014-3162 (nonprecedential) 12/9/14) we find out how things turned out for him.

According to the court, Wyrick was involved in a DUI and hit-and-run incident that he failed to report to his agency as required for employees who routinely use government vehicles. When the supervisor picked up inkling that there might be a problem, he questioned Wyrick who denied everything. He claimed his stepson was the one charged in the inident—he had borrowed and driven Wyrick’s car and had been involved in a DUI and hit-and-run. (Opinion p. 2)

About a year later a special agent submitted an investigation report documenting Wyrick’s was in fact the one involved in the incident. His report documented that Wyrick had been arrested and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs as well as a hit-and-run that resulted in damage to property. When confronted with the facts by the investigator, Wyrick admitted being arrested for the offenses. Unfortunately for Wyrick, this completely contradicted what he had previously told his boss. The agency found this to be lack of candor, the first charge in its removal action. (pp. 2-3)

While Wyrick’s California drivers license was suspended, he checked out and drove a government vehicle which not only violated the rules but added up to misuse of a government vehicle. (p. 3)

The FAA removed Wyrick based on lack of candor, operating a government car without a license, and failure to report the suspension of his driver’s license. On appeal and following a hearing the Merit Systems Protection Board upheld Wyrick’s removal. (p.4)

Wyrick took his case to court but has fared no better there. The court found “unpersuasive” Wyrick’s argument that he had not actually lied about the hit-and-run arrest because he had not yet been charged with that when questioned by the agency—he had only been charged with DUI. The court brushed this aside “given Mr. Wyrick either intentionally lied or omitted information regarding his involvement in this incident,” which in the court’s view added up to lack of candor. (p. 4)

As to Wyrick’s contorted argument that the agency had failed to actually prove he had operated the government vehicle while his license was suspended, the court was also unimpressed. The court opined that the agency proved this charge by introducing vehicle logs showing Wyrick checking out the vehicle and testimony from coworkers that the person who checks it out drives it. More significantly, Wyrick had admitted to the investigating agent that he often checked out vehicles to drive them to gas up and clean them and that he had checked out the vehicle on the date in question. (pp. 5-6)

It was only after Wyrick realized the agency was trying to fire him that he changed his story, saying at that point that “he was confused and in a fog when he spoke to [the Special Officer], due to his alcoholism.” (p.6) The agency, MSPB and the court found Wyrick’s earlier admissions more credible that the later story about his confusion and fogginess.

Turning aside various other arguments offered by Wyrick as to why his removal should be overturned, the court has affirmed Wyrick’s removal.

Time and again we see instances where individuals deny or try to cover-up the wrongdoing, only to end up facing a charge for lying, misrepresentation, attempted cover-up or lack of candor.

Wyrick v. DOT 2014-3162

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.