Washington, DC -- In a preliminary ruling, a U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board judge has decided that former U.S. Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers will not be returned to work pending the outcome of the legal challenge to her termination, according to the decision released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The decision held that Chief Chambers' interview with the Washington Post, which triggered a decision to suspend and seven months later to fire her, was not clearly covered by the Whistleblower Protection Act.
MSPB Judge Elizabeth Bogle did, however, tentatively set a hearing date of September 8. In addition, a number of top officials, including Interior Secretary Gale Norton, Assistant Secretary Steven Griles, National Park Service Director Fran Mainella and Deputy Director Donald Murphy, will be examined under oath by PEER lawyers defending Chief Chambers in mid-August.
"This decision means we did not land a knockout blow with the first punch," stated PEER General Counsel Richard Condit. "At the hearing, the burden of proof will be on the agency to show why telling the truth is grounds for removal from federal service."
On July 9, after more than seven months of paid administrative leave, Chief Chambers filed for restoration of her job and law enforcement credentials with the MSPB. Hours later, the Department of Interior announced its decision to fire her for actions involving her disclosure of staffing and budget shortfalls that threaten public safety at both the national monuments and in DC-area parks and parkways.
In addition to contending that the agency decision to fire her was without merit, Chief Chambers has raised a number of affirmative defenses, including protections under the –
- Whistleblower Protection Act which prohibits retaliation against federal employees who report threats to public safety;
- LaFollette Act which guarantees the right of federal employees to communicate with Congress; and
- First Amendment free speech protections for public employees who raise matters of public interest.
"We are very much looking forward to directly questioning under oath the officials who are responsible for the actions taken against Chief Chambers," Condit added.