Firing for Cause: The Secret Service Agents and the GSA Administrator

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Roger Meiners' Bio

Roger Meiners is the Goolsby Distinguished Professor of Economics and Law at the University of Texas at Arlington. His PhD in economics is from Virginia Tech; his law degree is from the University of Miami. He has taught the Legal Environment of Business for 30 years and has a Cengage textbook by that title.  He has published in various journals, including Environmental Law and the Journal of Law and Economics. He served as Regional Director of the Federal Trade Commission for the southeastern states and currently is a Senior Fellow at the Property and Environment Research Center in Bozeman, Montana.

Karen Morris' Bio

Karen Morris is a Distinguished Professor of Business Law at Monroe Community College in Rochester, New York where she has taught for 31 years.  She is also an elected town judge and the author of two textbooks - New York Cases in Business Law and Hotel, Restaurant and Travel Law.  Karen also writes a treatise on New York Criminal Law and a column in Hotel Management Magazine.  She recently published her favorite work - Law Made Fun Through Harry Potter's Adventures.   Professor Morris is the recipient of numerous teaching awards and recently received the Humanitarian Award from her county Bar Association.

Marianne Jennings' Bio

Professor Marianne Jennings is a member of the Department of Management in the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University and is a professor of legal and ethical studies in business. At ASU she teaches graduate courses in the MBA program in business ethics and the legal environment of business. She served as director of the Joan and David Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics from 1995-1999. Professor Jennings earned her undergraduate degree in finance and her J. D. from Brigham Young University. She has done consulting work for a multitude of companies including: Boeing, Mattel, Coca-Cola, DuPont, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Motorola. Currently she has six textbooks and monographs in circulation. Her columns have been syndicated around the country, and her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. She is a contributing editor for the Real Estate Law Journal, New Perspectives, and the Corporate Finance Review.

 

Over the past week, several Secret Service agents have been terminated, resigned, or allowed to retire early because of their alleged involvement with women from escort services while they were doing advance work for a presidential visit to Cartagena, Colombia.  In addition, administrators with the GSA have been placed on paid leave as an investigation into the spending of the GSA (General Services Administration -- the purchasing agent for the federal government that also manages all federal properties) on conferences and retreats is reviewed by the Office of Inspector General.

There are other Secret Service agents and other GSA employees who are also on leave, pending investigations.

Many question why the agents and GSA employees are not fired immediately, especially because possible criminal charges could result from the conduct of the GSA employees. There is a big difference between charging someone with a crime and terminating his or her employment because he or she has been charged with a crime.  Employment law still affords employees the protection of their contracts or the due process employers afford, according to contracts or practices and policies. Even employees who are “at will” have certain protections, such as the right to the steps in discipline that their employers have taken in the past and that are outlined in the employee handbook or employer policies and procedures.  Even when there are no written documents on termination, the employer is obligated to follow those processes used in the past in disciplining employees.  Employees who have contracts enjoy the rights and protections provided in the contract.  In the case of the Secret Service agents and GSA employees, there are additional special protections that are provided for federal employees. Government employees are all protected by federal rules that require the establishment of some cause for termination.  One of the Secret Service agents who was fired was specifically released due to cause. Even with a firing for cause, the federal government must still be able to establish the facts that would rise to the level of an automatic termination, not probation, leave, or note in the file.

In the GSA situation, then-administrator of the agency, Martha Johnson, had ordered an investigation on October 10, 2010 into the spending by her agency on a Las Vegas conference.  The deadline for the report on the spending for the conference was postponed several times.  When the report was finalized in March 2012, Ms. Johnson fired several employees and then resigned herself.  Congressional hearings were held on the conference and spending, but the administrator who was responsible for the conference, Jeff Neeley, invoked the Fifth Amendment and declined to testify.  Mr. Nelley is on paid leave from GSA. 

Discussion Questions

1.  What are the requirements for terminating an employee?

2.  Why aren't criminal charges an automatic valid reason for termination of employment?

3.  Why would employees resign if they could not be fired immediately?

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