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Schapansky v. Department of Transportation

May 18, 1984

ROY L. SCHAPANSKY, PETITIONER,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, FAA, RESPONDENT



Appealed from: Merit Systems Protection Board.

Markey, Chief Judge, Friedman, Rich, Smith and Nies, Circuit Judges.

Markey

MARKEY, Chief Judge

Appeal from a decision of the Merit Systems Protection Board (Board), Docket Number DA075281F1130, sustaining the August 26, 1981, permanent removal of Roy L. Schapansky (Schapansky), by the Department of Transportation's Federal Aviation Administration (agency) from his position as Air Traffic Control Specialist at the Air Route Traffic Control Center in Fort Worth, Texas. We affirm.

BACKGROUND

Removal was based on charges of participation in a strike against the United States from August 3 to August 5, 1981, absence without leave for the same period, and violation of the "loyalty and striking" provision of 5 U.S.C. § 7311.*fn1 Schapansky appealed to the Board's Dallas Regional Office, which sustained the removal on May 14, 1982. On timely petition for review, the full Board affirmed the presiding official's decision and sustained Schapansky's removal on October 28, 1982.

Presiding Official

The presiding official determined that the agency had established by a preponderance of the evidence: (1) that Schapansky was a member of the union, the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO); (2) that he was aware of the strike by the members of PATCO; (3) that he intended to and did participate in that strike by refusing, in concert with others, to provide his services to his employer; (4) that the agency did not err in applying the statutory provision of 5 U.S.C. § 7513(b)(1);*fn2 (5) that the agency was correct under § 7513(b)(1) in disregarding the requirement for 30 day notice before deciding upon and effecting an adverse action because it had "reasonable cause to believe the employee ha[d] committed a crime" and because 18 U.S.C. § 1918*fn3 makes striking by federal employees a crime; (6) that once an agency invokes § 7311, removal of the employee is mandatory; and (7) that removal was required to promote efficiency of the service under § 7513(a).

Board

Before the Board, Schapansky reiterated his basic contention that no evidence supported a finding that he had participated in the strike. He conceded that he was absent without leave on August 3, 4, and 5, 1981, and that his absence was a protest against the same conditions that other PATCO members were protesting by withholding their services. Schapansky said other PATCO members were "thinking different", but he viewed his absence as a legal protest and PATCO's "lawyers would take care of it." The presiding official, in finding that Schapansky was aware of and intended to participate in the strike, cited Schapansky's own testimony that he voted "yes" when a "strike vote" was taken by PATCO members on August 2, 1981, and that the agency had informed him that the strike would be in violation of law. The Board found no basis on which to disagree with the presiding official's finding or assessment of the hearing testimony.

The Board noted that Schapansky in his petition for review neither challenged the presiding official's discrediting of his assertion that he was absent because of harassment and fear for his personal safety, nor asserted any other basis on which his absence might be determined to have been involuntary.

Schapansky challenged the agency's consideration of a photograph showing him among PATCO picketers, saying he is not shown as carrying a sign and that nothing showed him among picketers on August 3 or 4. The Board said that voluntary withholding of services in concert with others, not physical presence on a picket line, constitutes the gravamen of the charge. Schapansky's challenge of the photograph was therefore found unavailing.

On the merits of the basic charges, the Board held that the agency had proved the charges, that Schapansky had not rebutted the evidence of his knowledge of the strike and of his intent to withhold his services along with other PATCO members, and that he had made no showing that his absence was due to any factor other than strike participation.

Objecting to the absence of a 30-day advance written notice, Schapansky argued that he had not been formally charged with or convicted of a crime and that the agency had not proved his intent to do anything illegal. The Board pointed out that it has not adopted criminal charges, convictions, or proof of illegal intent as prerequisites to a finding of "reasonable cause to believe" that a crime had been committed in support of a decision to disregard the notice provision. The Board went on to say that because § 1918 makes participation in a strike against the United States a felony punishable by up to one year and a day of imprisonment, and because Schapansky's conduct evidenced such participation, it would sustain the finding that the agency had reasonable cause to believe that a crime had been committed and that disregard of the notice requirement was thus permissible under § 7513(b)(1).

Reading § 7311(3) as mandating removal when a charge of striking is sustained, the Board rejected Schapansky's contention that removal was unreasonable. The Board further noted the self-evident gravity of Schapansky's offense in participating in a strike against the Government, that by its very nature such action disrupts the Government's performance of its mission, that it is a criminal offense, that the position of air traffic controller is highly sensitive, the incumbent being directly responsible for the safety of passengers, and that that responsibility entails maintenance of the confidence of his employer and the public who rely on him. The Board viewed a controller's intentional and ongoing abdication of that responsibility, by participating in the strike and by continuing to strike despite the President's 48-hour grace period,*fn4 as constituting particularly egregious conduct which destroyed the controller's unique relationship of trust. The Board therefore held that the agency's removal penalty cannot be deemed excessive, disproportionate, or unreasonable.

Sustaining the finding that removal will promote the efficiency of the service, § 7513(a), the Board determined that § 7311 reflects the belief of Congress that removal of an employee for participation in a strike promotes that efficiency, and that there is a clear and direct relationship of such misconduct to the employee's satisfactory accomplishment of his duties and to the agency's ability to fulfill its mission.

Issues*fn5

(1) Whether the Board correctly determined that the agency proved the charges by a ...


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