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Gibson v. Department of Veterans Affairs

November 24, 1998

DRELLIE GIBSON, III, PETITIONER,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS, RESPONDENT.



Before Michel, Plager, And Schall, Circuit Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michel, Circuit Judge.

Appealed from: Merit Systems Protection Board

Opinion for the court filed by Circuit Judge MICHEL.

Concurring opinion filed by Circuit Judge PLAGER.

Drellie Gibson, III, petitions for review of a final decision by the Merit Systems Protection Board (the "Board"), No. AT-0752-96-0463-I-1, dismissing his appeal of his removal from his position as a supply clerk at a United States Department of Veterans Affairs ("DVA") Medical Center. The initial decision of the Administrative Judge ("AJ") became the final decision of the Board when the Board denied Gibson's petition for review on October 29, 1997 for failure to meet the regulatory criteria for such review. In his decision, the AJ dismissed Gibson's appeal for lack of jurisdiction because the appeal was precluded by the terms of the "last-chance" settlement agreement previously entered into by Gibson and the DVA. The appeal was argued on October 8, 1998. Gibson argues that the Board erroneously found that he breached the last-chance agreement by violating an agency policy regarding visiting patients, as the policy, he maintains, does not apply to employees. Because Gibson fails to persuade us that the Board committed legal error and we hold that its findings are supported by substantial evidence, we affirm.

BACKGROUND

Gibson was a Medical Supply Technician in the DVA Medical Center in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1995, Gibson's superiors proposed his removal for illegally using drugs and stealing government property. Settlement Discussions between Gibson and his superiors resulted in the signing of a last-chance settlement agreement in August, 1995. Under the express terms of the agreement, Gibson's removal would be held in abeyance for twelve months provided Gibson did not violate any of the policies or regulations of the Medical Center, and would thereafter be rescinded. However, a violation would reactivate his removal. In addition, Gibson waived his right to appeal any such removal to the Board. *fn1

The DVA removed Gibson from his position after it found that Gibson breached the last-chance agreement on two occasions in February, 1996, when he entered the Medical Intensive Care Unit (the "MICU") without permission. Gibson filed an appeal of his reactivated removal with the Board. The Board did not decide the merits of the removal, framing the "sole issue in this case" as "whether the appellant materially breached the last-chance agreement." According to the Board, if Gibson did materially breach the agreement the Board had no jurisdiction to hear his appeal because he had expressly waived that right in the agreement. At issue was solely whether Gibson violated a DVA policy by not obtaining permission before entering the MICU to visit a patient. On both of the dates in question, February 11 and 13, 1996, Gibson accompanied a friend while she visited her husband, who was a patient in the MICU.

The DVA contended that the hospital had a policy prohibiting anyone, including hospital employees, from visiting patients in the MICU without prior permission. The only written policy, however, is found in a brochure given to visitors and posted on the entrance door to the MICU, directing visitors to call into the MICU from a telephone outside the entrance doors before entering the MICU. Thus, outside visitors to the hospital certainly must obtain permission before entering the MICU. The DVA argued, however, that this policy extended to hospital employees such as Gibson, when those employees are visiting patients in the MICU. On the other hand, if the employees are simply carrying out their duties, such as delivering supplies to the MICU, the DVA acknowledged that such permission need not be obtained before entering the unit.

Gibson did not dispute that a violation of the last-chance agreement would result in a waiver of his right to appeal his original 1995 removal for illegal use of drugs and theft of government property. Nor did he argue that he obtained express permission to enter the MICU on the days in question or that he was carrying out his work duties. Gibson instead contended that he did not violate any "policy" as that term is used in the agreement, because there is no established policy requiring hospital employees to obtain permission before visiting patients in the MICU during visiting hours. A clerk from the MICU testified on Gibson's behalf, but did acknowledge that an employee may be told to wait before visiting a patient in the MICU. Gibson also asserted that no other employee has ever been disciplined under the alleged policy, implying that no such policy exists or that he was a victim of selective enforcement.

The AJ concluded that, under these circumstances, Gibson was required by policy to obtain permission prior to entering the MICU, even though he was a Medical Supply Technician at the hospital. The Board relied heavily on the testimony of David Bower, M.D., the Director of the MICU. Dr. Bower admitted that a Medical Supply Technician "does not have to obtain permission prior to entering the MICU in order to deliver supplies." However, Dr. Bower testified that a hospital employee who is merely visiting a patient must follow all established hospital visitation policies, including the requirement that permission be obtained before entering the MICU. A nurse from the MICU also so testified.

After the AJ determined that such a policy applicable to employees in fact existed, he analyzed the two incidents in question and found that Gibson had not sought or obtained permission to enter the MICU in either instance. On both days, Gibson was accompanying a friend while she went to visit her husband. *fn2

With respect to the February 11, 1996 incident, the AJ reasoned:

By his own admission, the appellant was on a break when he entered the MICU without permission on February 11, 1996. And, the stated purpose for his entry into the MICU on this date was to meet [his friend's husband]. Thus, there can be no doubt that the appellant was a visitor and subject to the agency's policy regarding visitors, when he entered the MICU on February 11, 1996. Because he entered without permission, he violated that policy. And, as previously noted, the last-chance agreement provided for termination without appeal rights for any infraction of agency policy. Accordingly, I find that the appellant violated agency policy on February 11, 1996, when he entered the MICU without permission.

The same finding was reached with respect to the February 13, 1996 incident, because Gibson again admitted that he had not received permission prior to entering the MICU. The Board found both breaches of the agreement material, and dismissed the appeal of the reactivated 1995 removal for lack of ...


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