2015-2016: Wrongful Termination by The Department of Commerce
2012-2015 | 2015-2016 | 2016-2018 | 2018-Now
After the dismissal of the criminal charges (2012-2015), if the Department of Commerce (DOC) had conducted an independent, objective review of the mistakes it made in the wrongful prosecution of Sherry Chen, she was not part of it. There is no evidence that such a reasonable and responsible review had in fact taken place.
Instead, DOC would soon take the next hostile and wrongful action against Sherry Chen while she was waiting to resume her hydrologist job at the National Weather Service in Ohio.
On September 15, 2015, the New York Times reported that Laura K. Furgione, then Deputy Director of the National Weather Service at DOC, notified Sherry Chen over the Labor Day weekend of a Proposed Disciplinary Action to fire Sherry Chen.
Furgione was the fourth level supervisor to Sherry Chen. There was no indication that the proposal originated from the three intermediate level supervisors. Furgione and Chen had never met or spoken to each other before.
Furgione justified her proposal to terminate Sherry Chen's employment for many of the same reasons that were used in the earlier prosecution dropped by the Department of Justice. Sherry Chen was given 15 calendar days to reply.
According to OPM statistics, less than 0.5% out of the 2.1 million federal civilian employees are fired each year. If there were performance or conduct issues with a federal employee, there is normally a progression of counseling, warning, performance improvement program, and other intermediate disciplinary actions. Immediate termination is extremely rare.
Since she joined the National Weather Service in 2007, Sherry Chen has been an exemplary employee, having received top performance evaluations and awards every year, including recognition for her outreach efforts. She received the regional Isaac Cline Award in 2009 and the national Larry Johnson Award in 2011, which recognized her work and achievements to help save American lives and properties in the Ohio River Valley. Prior to the proposed termination, there was not a hint from her supervisors that her performance or conduct would require improvement.
In October 2015, Sherry Chen and her attorney Peter Zeidenberg presented both written and oral responses to Dr. Louis W. Uccellelli, Director of the National Weather Service and the deciding official for the Proposed Disciplinary Action. Uccellelli was the fifth level supervisor to Sherry Chen. He had also not met or spoken with Sherry before at that time.
Two months later, Uccellelli resigned from his role as the deciding official, citing that he could not serve in an impartial role. He referred the matter to Vice Admiral Michael S. Devany, the sixth level supervisor to Sherry Chen, who had also not met or spoken to Sherry Chen before. Devany had already planned to retire.
On December 18, 2015, Furgione reissued the Proposed Disciplinary Action. Sherry Chen and her attorney made yet another round of written and oral presentations about the flaws and errors to Devany, but to no avail.
On March 11, 2016, Sherry Chen's employment with the National Weather Service formally ended. Devany went on leave promptly the next month and officially retired on July 1.
Although she was burdened by heavy debt from the wrongful prosecution and now without income, Sherry Chen decided to fight for justice and fairness, not just for herself but also for the innocent Chinese Americans who were increasingly ensnared in the dragnet of racial profiling. Congressional members and the Asian American community responded with their strong support for Sherry.
As a major turning point of the Sherry Chen story, the Merit Systems Protection Board issued a blockbuster decision in 2016-2018 MSPB Appeal and Decision.
Sherry Chen, Wrongfully Prosecuted And Fired
Laura K. Furgione, The DOC Proposing Official
Dr. Louis W. Uccellelli, The Original DOC Deciding Official Who Declined To Decide
Vice Admiral Michael S. Devany, The DOC Deciding Official Who Retired Promptly