Fired D.C. employees recoup millions in back pay

Local,DC,Michael Neibauer

The District was ordered to pay $3.4 million in 2009 to more than three dozen employees, including a drunk driving cop, who appealed their firings and then waited months or years for the appeals process to play out.

The Office of Employee Appeals has a backlog of 533 cases, only four administrative judges on staff and finances so depleted that it can't even hire court reporters, agency leaders say. Cases stemming from basic budget-related layoffs to terminations for cause often drag on for years, and those workers who successfully appeal are ultimately paid "to take a long vacation," said Ward 3 D.C. Councilwoman Mary Cheh, government operations committee chairwoman.

"You don't want to tell people that we can't do a hearing because we do not have a court reporter, or the money for it, but that's what it is," said Rohulamin Quander, senior administrative judge.

Four months into the current fiscal year, the office has nearly as many appeals (290) as it did in all last fiscal year (299). In 2009, OEA judges ordered 38 workers reinstated and reimbursed $3.4 million in back pay and benefits. Of the 42 orders issued since Oct. 1, 13 have gone in favor of the employee — or 30 percent.

Decisions of Office of Employee Appeals

FY 2007: 20 employees reinstated, back pay $2.6 million

FY 2008: 14 employees reinstated, back pay $2 million

FY 2009: 38 employees reinstated, back pay $3.4 million

One was to is former D.C. police Sgt. James O'Boyle, who was arrested for driving drunk in Fairfax County on April 5, 2004. O'Boyle's blood alcohol content was 0.27 percent — more than three times the legal limit — when he wrecked his car. He spent 10 days in jail, lost his driver's license and was fined $500. He was suspended without pay Aug. 30, 2004, and fired Jan. 8, 2005.

On Jan. 27, Senior Administrative Judge Joseph Lim ordered O'Boyle reinstated and reimbursed for all lost pay and benefits. Robert Deso, O'Boyle's attorney, argued successfully that the sergeant was unjustly penalized twice, suspended and terminated, for the same offense. Also, Lim concluded, other officers convicted of DUI and reckless driving during the same period were not fired.

"If you can't fire a police officer who has that much alcohol in their system, crashes his car and spends time in jail, something's wrong," Cheh said.

As of Monday, O'Boyle has not started back on the job.

But Kristopher Baumann, president of the police union, said the blame falls to the Metropolitan Police Department for "all the mistakes that they have made in moving to terminate people," and to the government for chronically underfunding the appeals office.


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