Federal Department of Education Employee's Firing for Going AWOL Stands

February 18, 2009 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The Federal Circuit Court of Appeals let stand a Merit Systems Protection Board decision to remove a federal Department of Education Employee who misused government funds and was absent without leave (AWOL).

According to FedSmith.com, Janice L. Stribling was a secretary in the Department’s Philadelphia Office of Student Aid, and was officially transferred to Washington, D.C. She was given an agency credit card to cover her relocation expenses, but continued to use the card for three weeks beyond the expiration of her travel authorization to pay for housing and other expenses.

Stribling also failed to report for work after her move, telling her supervisor she has suffered a medical emergency and asking for unpaid leave. According to the news report, Stribling was granted leave for a specific period of time, conditioned on the furnishing of medical documentation – which she did not do.

Stribling was ordered to report to work on a certain date, but she did not and made no effort to contact her supervisor to request leave. She showed up about three weeks after the date certain.

The Merit Systems Protection Board found that the Department proved its charges of AWOL, failure to follow required leave request procedures, and misuse of a government travel card, and affirmed Stribling’s removal.

Stribling tried to assert an affirmative defense of retaliation for whistleblowing, but the appellate court pointed out that the alleged whistleblowing occurred two years before her removal. Further, since it involved the Philadelphia office, the court said: “Stribling neither explained at the Board nor explains on appeal how her disclosures concerning managers in the Philadelphia office could have been the cause of her termination two years later by different managers in the Washington, D.C. office.”