Retirement & Financial Planning Report

A recent federal appeals court decision could make it easier for federal retirees to succeed in a claim that they were forced into retirement, by holding that the evidence they cite in support of their argument should be viewed as a whole.

The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit noted that federal retirements (and resignations) are presumed to be voluntary, but that presumption can be overcome if the employee proves that he or she “had no realistic alternative but to resign or retire, and the employee’s resignation or retirement was the result of improper acts by the agency.” That should be determined by examining “the surrounding circumstances to test the ability of the employee to exercise free choice.”

The court sent back to the MSPB a case in which a retiree argued that his retirement was involuntary, saying that the MSPB improperly viewed his evidence as a series of separate developments, none of which it found was sufficient to support that claim. The court cited the employee’s evidence that he was afraid to meet personally with certain supervisors after “multiple instances of hostility” from them, his request to be transferred away from them, and the worsening of a health problem.

The court said that they should have been considered “as a series of escalating incidents” and viewing them “collectively, rather than dismissing them one by one, as the Board did, we find that a person in like circumstances could reasonably feel unable to exercise free choice and compelled to retire.”