Incidents Leading to Involuntary Retirement Claim Must Be Reviewed 'Collectively'
To determine jurisdiction in an involuntary retirement appeal, the Merit Systems Protection Board must consider an appellant’s claims “collectively as a series of escalating incidents,” rather than one by one, the Federal Circuit recently held.
Garth Trinkl was an economist with the Department of Commerce for almost 20 years until he retired in 2015. In 2013, Trinkl complained to human resources about his colleague, Kurt Kunze, who Trinkl says made a disparaging comment about older employees and pushed another employee into a wall. Trinkle alleges that soon thereafter, Kunze and Trinkle’s first-line supervisor, Howard Krakower, subjected him to a “near-physical” attack during Trinkle’s mid-year performance review.
Trinkl claims these incidents profoundly impacted him and exacerbated his pre-existing post-traumatic stress disorder, such that he sought refuge in the agency’s nurse station to avoid meeting with Krakower and Kunze.
In August 2014, human resources finished its investigation into Trinkl’s allegations, finding “no conclusive evidence” that Trinkl had been subjected to “prohibited harassment, based on age and retaliation/reprisal.” Two months later, Trinkl applied for immediate retirement effective January 20, 2015, indicating he no longer felt safe working at the agency “due to reported supervisory threats and violence.”
In February 2016, Trinkle appealed to the MSPB, alleging he was coerced into involuntary retirement. A MSPB administrative law judge dismissed Trinkl’s appeal for lack of jurisdiction on the basis that Trinkl “failed to state a non-frivolous allegation that his retirement was involuntary due to misrepresentation or coercion.” The MSPB subsequently issued a final order affirming the judge’s decision. Trinkl appealed that decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
On appeal, the Court agreed with Trinkl and reversed the MSPB’s decision. The Court held the MSPB “erred in considering and dismissing Trinkl’s allegations individually, rather than viewing Trinkl’s claims collectively as a series of escalating incidents culminating in retirement.” The Court thus held “[c]onsidering Trinkl’s allegations of his experiences at [Commerce] collectively, rather than dismissing them one by one, as the Board did, we find that a person in like circumstances could reasonably feel unable to exercise free choice and compelled to retire.”
The Federal Circuit therefore vacated the MSPB’s decisions and remanded Trinkl’s case to the MSPB for a jurisdictional hearing.
This case law update was written by James P. Garay-Heelan, Associate Attorney, Shaw Bransford & Roth, PC.
For thirty years, Shaw Bransford & Roth P.C. has provided superior representation on a wide range of federal employment law issues, from representing federal employees nationwide in administrative investigations, disciplinary and performance actions, and Bivens lawsuits, to handling security clearance adjudications and employment discrimination cases.
Posted in Case Law Update