Supervisor’s Team Huddle Meeting Leads to His Removal

A VA housekeeping supervisor was removed for comments he made in a team meeting with his employees about issues involving COVID.

At the time of the team huddle that led to his problems with the agency, Donald Edler had worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Health Administration Facility in Chillicothe, Ohio for eleven years, almost ten of them as a supervisor of 13 or so employees. (Edler v DVA (CAFC No. 2021-1694 (nonprecedential) 02/01/2022) 

Among other things, he told the team that several of the group could not work around COVID patients because of specific individual medical conditions. He then named names, disclosing to the team who had what physical conditions. When later confronted during the agency’s investigation, Edler admitted he had disclosed personal, medical information but explained that “employees talk amongst themselves and they probably knew most of this information anyway.” (Opinion p. 3)

Next up on the agenda, Edler turned his a attention to a certain employee “who needed to be fit-tested for a mask but had not yet shaved his beard, which was necessary for the proper fit.” (P. 3) He told that employee that if he did not shave and get fitted he risked infecting his own family and that he would likely “be terminated.” (P. 3) Again, when confronted with this during the agency’s investigation of the team huddle, Edler admitted making this threat. He took issue with the employee’s characterization of Edler’s tone as aggressive and loud, maintaining he was forceful. (P.4)

While on a roll, Edler held forth to the team about the spread of COVID by Somali refugees who “had mingled with Chinese nationals who had COVID-19 and were spreading the disease in Dearborn and Detroit, Michigan,” and thus “ventilators were diverted …to Michigan as a result of the refugees spreading the virus.” (P. 3) Again, when confronted during the agency’s investigation, Edler pretty much admitted that he made these statements by way of explaining to the team why their facility had to send its ventilators to Michigan, was merely repeating what he heard on the news, and meant nothing disrespectful by these comments. (P.4)

Following the investigation the medical center proposed Edler’s removal based on privacy violations and conduct unbecoming a federal employee. Following Edler’s oral reply in which he pretty much admitted his statements but tried to explain them away, the deciding official sustained both charges and ordered Edler’s removal, citing the unprofessional nature of his comments to the team as well as the violations of several members’ privacy in revealing medical conditions to other employees who had no need to know. (P. 4)

At a hearing before the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), after hearing from Edler and several team members, the administrative judge pointed to “little factual dispute as to the underlying events that led to the charges.” (P. 4) Edler’s main defense seemed to be that this was all blown out of proportion and certainly did not merit discipline, much less removal. Edler again admitted he had disclosed the private medical information but argued he “believed the employees freely shared their medical concerns with each other” and thus he did nothing wrong disclosing what everyone already knew. Since several of his employees testified that they were required to disclose the medical information to Edler as their supervisor, but they did not freely share the information with co-workers, the MSPB found Edler’s defense not persuasive.  Many testified that they first learned this information about others from the team huddle when Edler disclosed it. In short, VA had met its burden with respect to the privacy violation. (P. 5) The MSPB also concluded that the conduct unbecoming charge was sustained as well.

Edler took his case to the appeals court but to no avail. The court has sustained the MSPB decision, found it to be supported by the facts, and Mr. Edler’s removal stands.

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.