One of the benefits of being a high level State employee is job security.  Employees in the State Personnel Management System within the Executive Branch may not be fired without just cause – and if these employees are fired, they are granted appeal rights.  But even these high level State employees must be careful – the State makes employees jump through specific hoops to exercise these rights, and if you miss a hoop, you could lose your rights.  This article describes one such hoop that is virtually invisible and easy to miss.

In the case of Fisher v. Eastern Correctional Institute, 425 Md. 699, 43 A.3d 338 (2012), Vanessa Fisher was terminated from her position at the Eastern Correctional Institution in December 2008.  Fisher timely appealed to the head of her principal unit.  Her appeal letter concluded: “I await your response.”

On February 5, 2009, having received no response, Fisher sent a second letter inquiring into “the status of this proceeding.”  

On July 29, 2009, Fisher wrote again noting the lack of response and requesting a decision at the “earliest convenience.”  Fisher added: “If I have not received your decision by August 7, 2009, I shall assume you have decided to uphold the termination, albeit without written opinion, and file an appeal to the Office of Administrative Hearings.”

On August 20, 2009, Fisher sent a letter to the Secretary of the Department of Budget and Management stating that she had assumed from the lack of response that “her appeal has been denied.”

Fisher’s case eventually made its way up to Maryland’s highest court, the Court of Appeals.

The Court engaged in a thorough analysis of the statutory language at issue, which I will kindly leave out here as it contains a boatload of legalese.

An initial reading of the statutes at issue suggests that Fisher did not have to take any further action after her initial appeal. Although Fisher made strong arguments for her interpretation of the statutes, the Court ruled against her.

The bottom line is, after an employee files the initial appeal, the employee must assume at the end of the fifteen-day period that the appeal has been denied and must take any further appeal within ten days thereafter.

Fisher’s apparent vigilance in pursuing her appeal was unfortunately not successful.

Don’t let this happen to you.

The important lesson learned from this case is to never assume that “once the ball is in their court, I can rest on my laurels,” waiting for the government to make the next move. When dealing with government agencies, one must be vigilant every step of the way to avoid devastating procedural pitfalls.

Contact the experienced Employment Lawyers at Luchansky Law today to help you navigate the complexities in pursuing your case.