Postmaster Gets in Trouble with Agency for Unacceptable Direction of Staff

A postmaster was demoted when the IG found that his staff improperly scanned more than 1,000 packages showing them delivered when they hadn’t been. See how he fared on his appeal.

Gary Amason was Postmaster at Webster, Texas when the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) Inspector General (IG) investigated the package scanning procedures at Amason’s post office. (Amason v. United States Postal Service, CAFC No. 2021-1800 (nonprecedential) 4/2/2024)

The IG investigation found that more than a thousand packages were improperly scanned at the Webster facility, showing the packages had been delivered when in fact they had not and still sat around Amason’s post office. As the Postmaster is accountable for following USPS rules, overseeing operations at the post office, and for timely mail delivery, Mr. Sunny, Manager of Post Office Operations and Amason’s boss, proposed to reduce Amason’s grade and pay. Mr. Sunny found that Amason’s instruction to his staff to make inappropriate scans of packages and otherwise misrepresent the delivery status by indicating they were ready to be picked up when they actually were not ready amounted to “unacceptable conduct”  and a violation of cited USPS rules and regulations. (Opinion pp. 2-3) 

Sunny proposed that Amason be reduced from Postmaster, EAS 21 to Supervisor, EAS 17, and that his salary be reduced from $93,461 to $81,234. The deciding official sustained the proposal and reduced Amason’s grade and pay. Amason appealed to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). The Administrative Judge (AJ) held that the agency had proved its case, that Amason failed in proving his due process had been violated, that there was a nexus with the efficiency of the service, and that the penalty was reasonable. The AJ’s decision became the final MSPB decision, so Amason took his case to the federal appeals court.

The court first addressed Amason’s due process argument, finding it “unpersuasive.” (P. 4) Amason argued that USPS and the MSPB failed to cite anything in writing as the basis for taking action against him. On the contrary, the court pointed to the fact that the agency cited the Employee and Labor Relations Manual of the USPS and delineated several provisions in that Manual as the basis for the demotion. Of note, the court cited the part of the Manual expecting employees to “uphold the policies and regulations of the Postal Service…discharge their assigned duties conscientiously and effectively…and to be honest, reliable, trustworthy, courteous, and of good character and reputation.” (p. 4) The court labeled Amason’s instruction to his staff to misrepresent the status of packages as “an action that is inherently dishonest.” (P. 5)

The court quickly dismissed Amason’s argument that USPS failed to prove a nexus between his actions and the efficiency of the service, calling the nexus “obvious on the face of the facts.” (p. 6) The court also points to numerous customer complaints as a result of Amason’s actions.

Finally, the court rejected Amason’s argument that the offense was “very minor” and therefore did not support the penalty of demotion.

In short, the appeals court has now upheld the agency’s demotion of Amason.

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.