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Absent Improper Conduct Finding, Washington Employee Cannot be Forced to Write Apology Letter

The State of Washington Personnel Appeals Board (PAB) has held that where no evidence exists that a public employee engaged in misconduct, acted inappropriately during an interaction with a private citizen, the employee was not guilty of neglect of duty or insubordination for refusing to use the word apology in a letter to the citizen acknowledging a misunderstanding.

On March 27, 2003, while acting as a Community Corrections Officer for the Washington Department of Corrections Jolene Loomis was alleged in a complaint by a probationer’s mother to have told the probationer, “shut up and sit down.” The mother, Donna Pilon tried to intercede on her daughter’s behalf, but Loomis told her “I don’t need your two cents worth….just sit their and be quiet.” According to Pilon, Loomis proceeded to kick me out of the waiting room.

Loomis noted the incident in the probationer’s file, stating she was inappropriately accosted and verbally abused. After review of Pilon’s complaint, Loomis’s supervisors instructed her to draft a letter of apology to Pilon. Loomis wrote a letter stating she intended to cause no embarrassment to Pilon and acknowledging there was a misunderstanding.

When Loomis refused to include the word apology or to apologize in the body of the letter, her pay was reduced for one month for neglect of duty or insubordination. The PBA found that the department never disciplined or counseled Loomis relative to the incident with Pilon, it only argued its integrity and the public’s perception of the agency was best protected by an apology. Loomis argued the Department can “only require employees to do things that are reasonable, lawful and appropriate in their employment, and that employees who feel that they are being asked to do something immoral have the right to refuse.

The PAB agreed, and it granted Loomis’s appeal. See: Loomis v. Department of Corrections, PAB No. RED-02-0058 (2004). The PAB ruling is in the brief bank.

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Related legal case

Loomis v. Department of Corrections