U.S. OFFICE OF SPECIAL COUNSEL CHARGES THE DEPARTMENT
OF INTERIOR WITH VIOLATION OF FIRST AMENDMENT
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - 10/19/99
CONTACT: JANE MCFARLAND
Today, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC),
petitioned the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) for corrective action
on behalf of Mr. Deane H. Zeller for violation of his First Amendment rights
by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Department of Interior.
OSCís petition alleges that Mr. Zeller was reprimanded
and then reassigned to a non-supervisory position based upon the views he
expressed in a letter to the editor that he had written to Government
Executive magazine. Mr. Zellerís letter responded to an article on
affirmative action in the federal government, which highlighted the opinions
of a high-ranking Bureau official. In his letter, Mr. Zeller was critical of
BLMís affirmative action policies.
Mr. Zellerís letter was published in July 1996 and the
magazine identified him as ďDeane H. Zeller, District Manager, Salt Lake
City District, Bureau of Land Management, Interior Department.Ē
Approximately one month later, Mr. Zeller was issued a Letter of Reprimand (LOR)
for ďusing [his] official title in [his] private capacity and in doing so,
making statements contrary to Bureau policy.Ē
In September 1996, the BLM Director sent a memorandum to
all employees taking issue with the views expressed by Mr. Zeller in his
letter to the editor. The BLM Director attached a copy of his own letter to
Government Executive magazine that was subsequently published in November
In January 1997, BLM informed Mr. Zeller that it was
permanently reassigning him from his supervisory position. At that time,
according to OSCís petition, BLM officials made several verbal references
to Mr. Zellerís letter to the editor as a basis for the reassignment.
OSCís petition alleges that despite requests made during its
investigation, the Bureau never produced any documents that supported a
basis for Mr. Zellerís discipline and reassignment, other than his letter
to the editor.
OSCís petition seeks a retraction of the reprimand and
restoration of Mr. Zeller to his former position or an equivalent one.
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel provides an
independent avenue to protect merit system principles in federal government.
OSC receives, investigates and prosecutes before the MSPB; allegations
concerning the commission of prohibited personnel practices. Title 5, U.S.C.,
provides, ď[a]ll employees and job applicants should be treated in a fair
and non-discriminatory way, with proper regard for their privacy and