Court Clears Commerce Dept. Official in Google Search Dispute

May 9, 2007 ( - A federal appellate court has ruled that a U.S. Commerce Department official was within her rights when she conducted a Google Internet search on an accused employee's prior work history.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issued the ruling in a case involving David M. Mullins, a Facilities Engineering Technician at the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration’s Weather Forecast Office in Indianapolis, which is part of the Commerce Department.

A three-judge panel agreed with a decision by the United States Merit Systems Protection Board that, in turn, upheld the Commerce Department finding that Mullins was guilty of misuse of a government vehicle, misuse of official time, misuse of a government travel card and falsification of official travel documents.

Commerce Department official Valeria Capell found that Mullins violated many rules and regulations and the public’s trust. Capell found that Mullins’ misconduct cost the Agency $6,419.83 and authorized his removal.

As part of his fight over the removal, Mullins complained that Capell improperly conducted a Google Web search and discovered Mullins’ two prior job losses. He argued that his guaranteed right to fundamental fairness was seriously violated, for example, when Capell found he had been fired from the federal service by the Air Force and the Smithsonian Institution.

The appellate court ruled that the Google searches were not prejudicial because Capell had independently accumulated a wealth of evidence against Mullins and affirmed Mullins’ dismissal.

The latest ruling is    here .