NFFE Local 1904 Saves Job of “Exemplary” VA Physician After Unlawful Firing
Dr. Joseph “Edward” DeJean is by every standard a good doctor. A career physician and federal employee, Dr. DeJean worked as a radiologist at the New Orleans VA Medical Center in Louisiana for 25 years. That was until July of 2010, when Dr. DeJean’s supervisor fired him after he wrongfully determined that DeJean had earlier failed a “30-minute pop quiz.”
An exemplary figure, Dr. DeJean did not have a single peer or patient complaint on his record. Respected by patients and colleagues, DeJean was looking forward to retiring in just a few short years. With his unexpected firing, however, he found himself without a job and without a plan. At one point, DeJean took a job as a tour guide in his native New Orleans just to keep up with the monthly bills.
“As a Veteran of Desert Storm, where I served as a radiologist in the U.S. Army Medical Corps and as a faithful 25-year employee at the New Orleans VA Medical Center, I was completely shocked that I was fired based entirely on my alleged poor performance on a single, highly subjective 30 minute oral pop quiz which was prepared and administered solely by my supervisor,” said DeJean. “There had never been any lawsuit, negative peer review, or even a single complaint from anyone concerning my radiology work. Even the most recent radiology departmental data there revealed that I was by far the most productive radiologist employed at that facility.”
Dr. DeJean knew what happened to him wasn’t right, and he turned to his union, NFFE Local 1904, to get his job back.
The union soon took his case before a VA Discipline Appeals Board (DAB), an ad hoc body of three doctors charged with adjudicating disciplinary actions involving professional conduct or competence. The hearing spanned three days in December of 2010. Testimony was given by all parties, including Dr. DeJean. In an unusual move, the DAB decided to administer a “pop quiz” of its own in the hearing – a quiz DeJean passed with flying colors. But his ordeal was not over yet.
“Unlike the selection procedure for an arbitrator, the three members of the DAB were picked by management with no input from the Union,” said NFFE Business Representative Gary Johanson, who represented Dr. DeJean at the DAB hearing with assistance from Local 1904 President Louis Jasmine. “After the DAB ruled in favor Dr. DeJean, we then had to get the VA Principal Deputy Undersecretary for Health (PDUSH) to uphold the DAB’s verdict. The entire process took 21 months.”
On March 29th, 2012, the verdict came down from the VA’s Central Office in Washington DC: Dr. DeJean had been illegally fired and would be made whole, including all back pay. After, days of hearings, weeks of consultation with local and national union representatives, and 21 months of scraping by, Dr. DeJean was fully exonerated.
“The entire appeals process itself was very lengthy and, without a source of income, I simply could not have afforded the legal fees. Fortunately, my NFFE Local 1904 immediately saw the injustice involved and offered to represent me in my appeals process. Moreover, much more important to me was the emotional support NFFE gave me throughout this very long and drawn out process. Without a doubt, it was the most horrible thing that I have ever experienced and I could not have endured it without NFFE’s help.”
In addition to being fully exonerated, Dr. DeJean was awarded full back pay and returned to work just days later. For Johanson and Jasmine, this was just another day on the job.
“Dr. DeJean is a career federal employee and a highly qualified doctor who never deserved this shabby treatment,” said Johanson. “I am glad to see Dr. DeJean is back on the job, taking care of our veterans. Dr. DeJean and I are grateful for the help we received from Louis Jasmine, NFFE General Counsel Stefan Sutich, and National President Bill Dougan.”