Postal Worker’s Removal For Hugging Customer Reduced to Suspension

MSPB: “removal of an [postal] employee with 45 years of unblemished federal service exceeds the bounds of reasonableness.”

The following are excerpts from the MSPB decision:

The agency removed the appellant from his position of City Letter Carrier effective March 23, 2007, for unacceptable conduct. In its notice of proposed removal, the agency stated that it had received a letter dated December 11, 2006, from Velma Garza, the property manager for the Princess Apartments (the Princess), which advised the agency that the appellant had behaved inappropriately towards her when he delivered mail to the tenants at the Princess, i.e., the appellant had hugged her and kissed her on her left cheek. Ms. Garza had asserted that the appellant’s conduct was unprofessional and she denied encouraging his behavior. Based on Ms. Garza’s letter and the agency’s subsequent investigation, the agency charged the appellant with engaging in “inappropriate conduct by touching a postal customer in an inappropriate manner and making inappropriate comments – some of which contained sexual innuendos.”

On appeal to the Board the administrative judge (AJ) found, based on Ms. Garza’s demeanor and the plausibility of her statements, that Ms. Garza lacked credibility when she testified that on October 16, 2006, the appellant hugged and kissed her on the cheek and made remarks to her, both of which were unwelcome. The AJ found further that, even though Ms. Garza claimed that a tenant witnessed the appellant’s inappropriate comments to her, the record is devoid of any corroborating evidence and, thus, there was insufficient evidence to conclude that the appellant’s alleged comments to Ms. Garza were sexual in nature.Rather, the AJ found that another individual stated in a written statement that he never saw the appellant behave inappropriately and he did not recall Ms. Garza ever telling him that the appellant had kissed her cheek.

The AJ found that, in contrast to Ms. Garza, the appellant testified in a straightforward manner that he did not kiss Ms. Garza and that she had initiated hugs with him on some occasions. The AJ found the appellant credible when he testified that he was friendly with his customers and that he frequently gave them hugs and handshakes, and that the agency failed to prove that he kissed Ms. Garza or made inappropriate remarks to her as alleged in the proposal notice.  The AJ sustained the charge of unacceptable conduct, however, because the appellant admitted hugging Ms. Garza, as well as other customers, finding that hugging any customer is inappropriate behavior for a mail carrier.  Thus, the AJ sustained the charge, absent the finding of a kiss or sexual comments.

MSPB ordered the Postal Service to “cancel the removal action and substitute a 60-day suspension and to restore the letter carrier” with backpay effective March 23, 2007.

see Tyron, JR vs USPS