This is a story that’s been far too long in the making and will likely enrage you. Fortunately (spoiler alert) it has a somewhat happy ending. It deals with a postal carrier from Maine named John Patrie. John was a member of the Maine National Guard when the attacks of September 11, 2001, took place. He was called up for active duty almost immediately, going on to serve multiple tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan until 2015.
All during his military service, Patrie sent copies of his orders to his USPS supervisors as required, informing them of his various assignments. He kept up with all the responsibilities of someone who is off fighting for their country but expects to return to work once their service is over. But after his discharge from the service, he was informed by the Post Office that he couldn’t come back to work and had been terminated because he “abandoned his civilian post.”
John filed a complaint with the US Labor Department, where it was determined that the Post Office had violated the veterans protection law. Still, the USPS refused to reinstate him. The Labor Department kicked the case to the Office of Special Counsel. They sent it to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). Finally, they investigated and ruled in Patrie’s favor. (Government Executive)
“Patrie did everything he could under the law, and he had no idea how long he would be away,” OSC attorney Patrick Boulay told Government Executive. The veteran even kept his locker and union membership. “The whole idea of USERRA is to maintain the employment as an ‘unburned bridge.’ It is the service member’s choice whether to cross that bridge, but the Postal Service decided at the last moment to burn the bridge.”
The Postal Service, Boulay added, has been applying its own standards in such cases similarly for years, and is the only agency that doesn’t follow the exceptions to the law’s five-year limit on employment eligibility.
“We are very pleased to have won this victory not just for Mr. Patrie but for service members everywhere,” said Special Counsel Henry Kerner. “Our country must honor its commitments to those who serve in uniform and defend our freedoms.”
So Mr. Patrie has his job at the Post Office back. In addition, the USPS was ordered to reinstate John retroactive to January 2016 and provide back pay and benefits. That’s as it should be, but he never should have been put through all of this to begin with. While it’s true that there’s a five year limit to federal employment eligibility when you can’t work for an extended period of time, there are specific exceptions to that law and one of them covers reservists who are called to active duty. The Post Office hasn’t been honoring those exceptions and that needs to change.
As a side note, you’ll notice that this matter wound up being adjudicated by the MSPB. I know that I’ve taken issue with that board here on many occasions. (Okay… that’s putting it very mildly. The MSPB is a disaster that too often allows delinquent or even criminal government employees to keep their jobs forever.) But in this case, they managed to use their power for something good, rather than protecting people who were found to be watching porn all day, selling drugs out of their offices or even driving getaway vehicles at crime scenes. (Yes, all of those things happened.)
So here’s a rare tip of my hat to the Merit Systems Protection Board. John Patrie has earned far more than just our thanks and a job at the Post Office for the sacrifices he made in service of his country. Thank you for setting this situation to rights.