When Can (and Should) You File a Wrongful Termination Claim as a Former Federal Employee?

April 16, 2024
The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford

Employees at all levels of the federal government have clear legal rights. These rights prohibit the termination of federal employees’ employment in many cases. Yet, wrongful terminations are common, and many federal employees find themselves needing to take legal action.

So, when can (and should) you file a wrongful termination claim against the federal government? In this article, our federal wrongful termination lawyers provide an overview of what you need to know as a former federal employee.

You May Have a Federal Wrongful Termination Claim If . . .

Former federal employees can file wrongful termination claims in several circumstances. While not all federal terminations are wrongful, you may have a wrongful termination claim if:

You Were Incorrectly Charged with Misconduct or Poor Performance Justifying Termination

Two of the main lawful reasons for termination of federal employment are misconduct and poor performance. Misconduct generally involves violating a federal rule, policy or regulation, with examples including things like making misrepresentations, exceeding authorized access and mishandling government funds. Poor performance generally involves failing to adequately fulfill the responsibilities attendant to a federal employee’s role.

But, not all errors and omissions warrant charges of misconduct or poor performance. Additionally, while some instances of misconduct and poor performance justify termination, others do not. As a result, if you were fired from your federal job based on misconduct or poor performance, it will be worth speaking with a federal wrongful termination lawyer about your legal rights.

Your Termination was Discriminatory

Discriminatory terminations can violate a host of federal employment laws. A termination is considered discriminatory if it is based on a federal employee’s membership in a protected class. This includes, but is not limited to, protected classes based on age, color, gender identity, race, religion and sex.

Even if you have engaged in misconduct or received a valid poor performance review, your termination could still be wrongful if it was based on your membership in a protected class. For example, if male and female federal employees are charged with the same misconduct and only the female employee gets fired, this could be indicative of discrimination.

Your Termination was Retaliatory

The termination of a federal employee’s employment can also be classified as wrongful if it is retaliatory. In the federal employment context, retaliation involves taking adverse employment action based on an employee’s decision to exercise his or her legal rights. Examples include:

  • Firing a federal employee who refuses to engage in particular political activity
  • Firing a federal employee who blows the whistle on fraud, waste or an abuse of authority
  • Firing a federal employee who files an appeal, grievance or complaint
  • Firing a federal employee who reports discrimination, harassment or other misconduct affecting a co-worker
  • Firing a federal employee who cooperates with an investigation conducted by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) or Office of Special Counsel (OSC)

In many cases, supervisors and senior personnel will use pretexts in an attempt to justify retaliatory terminations. For example, they may issue a poor performance review or make allegations of serious misconduct. There are several ways to show that a purported justification for a federal employee’s termination is pretextual, and federal employees have the right to obtain the documentation and other evidence they need to prove retaliation through the MSPB appeal process (and in court if necessary).

Your Termination Violates a Merit System Principle (MSP) or Constitutes a Prohibited Personnel Practice (PPP)

As the MSPB explains, the merit system principles (MSPs) are “nine basic standards that govern the management of the executive branch workforce and serve as the foundation of the Federal civil service.” All federal agencies are required to comply with the MSPs, and violation of any of the nine basic standards in the MSPs can give rise to a wrongful termination claim. The MSPs govern federal employment actions involving:

  • Recruitment, selection and advancement
  • Equity
  • Compensation
  • Conduct
  • Utilization
  • Retention
  • Employee training and development
  • Neutrality
  • Public interest

Within each of these nine broad areas, federal agencies have a variety of specific obligations, and failure to meet any of these obligations in connection with the termination of an employee’s employment can make the employee’s termination wrongful.

In addition to complying with the MSPs, federal agencies must also avoid engaging in prohibited personnel practices (PPPs). Discrimination, retaliation, and coerced political activity are a few examples of PPPs that can justify wrongful termination claims in the federal employment sector.

You Were Not Afforded Due Process

Even when termination is justified, federal law requires that federal employees be afforded the opportunity to defend themselves in most cases. Federal agencies must follow stringent rules and procedures before terminating federal employees’ employment, and if they fail to do so, this can also give rise to a claim for wrongful termination. An experienced federal wrongful termination lawyer will be able to determine if the government violated your right to due process, and if it did, your lawyer will be able to seek appropriate remedies on your behalf.

The Deadline for Filing a Wrongful Termination Claim as a Former Federal Employee

If you think you may have a wrongful termination claim against the federal government, it is important that you act promptly. Strict deadlines apply—and, if you wait too long, you could lose your right to take legal action. If you need to file an MSPB appeal, you must generally file your appeal within 30 days of your wrongful termination. If you need to file a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), you must generally contact your agency’s EEO Counselor within 45 days.

Request a Confidential Consultation with a Federal Wrongful Termination Lawyer

Do you have a wrongful termination claim against the federal government? If so, we can help you assert your legal rights. Our federal wrongful termination lawyers represent current and former federal employees nationwide. To get started with a confidential initial consultation, call us at 410-514-6099 or tell us how we can reach you online today.