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What Does "Meaningful" Really Mean?

Written by: Federal Practice Group
Written by: Federal Practice Group

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The Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) recently ruled on four cases "clarifying required constitutional due process when an employee faces a proposed indefinite suspension because of a cancelled or suspended security clearance." What does this actually mean for the federal employee?

Constitutional due process mandates that suspended employees be afforded "a meaningful opportunity to respond to the suspension of [their] clearance or classified access." The problem with this, of cousre, is that terms like "meaningful" and "reasonable" are open to interpretation. Before the series of four recent decisions was issued, the MSPB had consistently held that, while employees in danger of losing their clearances or access had to be given an opportunity to respond to a resulting suspension, the deciding official in these matters was not required to determine whether or not the employee's arguments, justifications, or defenses were true.

Put simply: Suspended employees had a chance to respond to the suspension, but the person to whom they responded was under no obligation to acknowledge the validity of that response. Put even more simply: you could talk, but no one had to listen.

The Board's reasoning was harsh but clear:

1) If you need access to classified documents to do your job,

2) But you can no longer be trusted with those documents,

3) Then you can no longer do your job; and

4) If you can no longer do your job,

5) There is no reason to keep you at your job.

After reviewing the details in the case of McGRIFF v. DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY and three companion decisions, the MSPB has now determined that, for a "meaningful opportunity to respond" to a clearance-based suspension to be truly meaningful, the merits of the suspended employees' claims must be considered.

Much like the Board's previous reasoning, the new approach is clear and much more employee-friendly:

1) In order for an employee to have a "meaningful opportunity" to respond,

2) The deciding official must consider the validity of the employees' response,

3) Because how can you find that a suspension is warranted,

4) Unless the reasons behind it are legitimate?

With over 100 years of combined experience, the legal team at The Federal Practice Group is committed to standing up for federal employees who have been wronged at work. Contact a federal employment law attorney from the Federal Practice Group for representation in the employment law issues that affect workers employed by or contracting with the federal government.

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