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Federal Prison Guard Suspended Indefinitely for Active Duty Assault in Iraq

Former Metropolitan Detention Center (New York) federal prison guard Gary Pittman sought review of a 2006 Merit Systems Protection Board's (Board) affirmation of his release from federal employment upon return from active military duty in Iraq. He alleged violation of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). The Board's ruling was partially affirmed but other claims were ordered dismissed due to lack of jurisdiction.

Pittman was court martialed for striking enemy detainees while he was on active military duty, but was honorably discharged and retained in the reserves due to his outstanding record and awards. He returned to work for the Federal Bureau of Prisons for one shift, was questioned about the Iraq incident, placed on administrative leave, and later was indefinitely suspended in 2004. He was informed that he could grieve the decision or appeal to the Board but not both. He grieved the action through his union and appealed to the Board alleging USERRA violations for not being reemployed upon his return from duty and for improper removal from federal employment. The Board ruled that he had been properly reemployed and removed. Pittman appealed.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held that his reemployment was proper but that his removal claim was decided in error, because the Board lacked jurisdiction to decide that issue under 5 U.S.C. § 7121(e). The dissent opined that Pittman was not "fully restored" and that it was "beyond ironic that this court lets them get away with" the USERRA violations. The case was affirmed in part and remanded for dismissal of Pittman’s improper removal claims. See: Pittman v. Department of Justice, 486 F.3d 1276 (Fed. Cir. 2007).

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Related legal case

Pittman v. Department of Justice