Merit board overturns Army RIF assignment

The Merit Systems Protection Board has reversed an Army depot's effort to shift an employee to a lower-level position as part of a reduction-in-force, saying the agency's action violated RIF regulations. The Letterkenny Army Depot was wrong to release a GS-7 employee from her competitive level and assign her to a GS-5 secretarial position, ruled MSPB Judge Lonnie Crawford. The judge's ruling reinstated the affected employee with all back pay and benefits and covers her court costs. The case involves Lisa Hepfer, a GS-7 management and program assistant who received an RIF notice on Feb. 23, 1999. In the notice, Letterkenny management specified that Hepfer would be terminated from her position because she did not qualify for a "retreat"--an assignment to a similar position occupied by an employee with a lower retention standing. Retention standings determine in what order position offers are made during RIF procedures and are based on factors such as tenure, length of service and veterans preference. Later, Letterkenny offered her a GS-5 secretary position, in lieu of firing her altogether. Hepfer filed an appeal with MSPB through the National Federation of Federal Employees, or NFFE, Local 1442. In her appeal, Hepfer argued that she was entitled to a different GS-7 position held by an employee of lower retention standing. While Letterkenny conceded that Hepfer did have a higher retention standing than this other employee, management contended that she was not qualified for the position in question--which consisted mainly of typing. Crawford disagreed. "It is undisputed that the appellant meets OPM's qualifications for a typist," said Crawford. The judge also noted that the job in question was essentially the same as the position from which Hepfer had been displaced. After Letterkenny filed an unsuccesful appeal to his initial decision, Crawford issued a final order reversing the Depot's RIF action on Nov. 14.

"I want to commend Lisa for hanging in there and for having the courage to stand up for her rights," said NFFE Local 1442 President Deborah Witherspoon.

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