It took the postal service more than 600 days to investigate and take removal action stemming from the allegations against an 18-year employee who served as Postmaster at West Linn, Oregon. On appeal both the Merit Systems Protection Board and the federal appeals court sustained his removal. (Canarios v US Postal Service (CAFC No. 2017-1935 (nonprecedential, 9/11/17))
According to the court’s accounting of the facts in the case, Canarios joined the Post Office in 1988. By 2016 he was Postmaster, Executive and Administrative Grade 21 and the highest manager at the West Linn facility. Following several allegations by his coworkers, USPS put Canarios on administrative leave and launched an investigation. It took more than 600 days for the investigation to wrap up (no indication in the court’s opinion whether Canarios was on paid leave all this time). By the time the dust settled, the agency charged Canarios with making “disparaging and inappropriate comments and displayed inappropriate behavior—vulgar, sexual comments and conduct—toward employees and customers [particularly females]…” and proposed his removal. (Opinion p. 2) Following his reply, the deciding official ordered Canarios’ removal.
The Merit Systems Protection Board held a hearing at which Canarios denied the allegations, argued the 600 day period had caused him irreparable harm, and asserted his boss was biased against him. The Board tossed a couple of the specifications, but ruled that the agency had made its case, that Canarios had engaged in unacceptable conduct, there was a clear nexus, that removal was reasonable, and that the lengthy investigation did not add up to harmful error so as to violate Canarios’ due process rights. (p. 3)
Mr. Canarios took his arguments to the federal appeals court, but it has now issued a decision upholding the MSPB and therefore the removal of Canarios. Neither the Board nor the court blinked at the argument that removal was too harsh given Canarios’ long service and otherwise good performance record. As to his argument that 600 days was just too excessive to afford due process, the court noted that the Board had “performed a harmful-error analysis” and concluded there was no detriment stemming from this delay. (p. 8)
In the end, Mr. Canarios is now and will remain a former USPS executive.