WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union of the District of Columbia announced that the Transportation Security Administration has settled a lawsuit filed by Rafael Cruz-Martin for $194,648.38, including full back pay and benefits for the eleven months during which he was suspended without pay, plus attorneys’ fees for his lawyers, and correction of his employment records. The TSA settled the case, shortly before argument was scheduled in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which dismissed the lawsuit late yesterday.
Mr. Cruz-Martin is an Attorney-Advisor at the Transportation Security Administration’s Office of Chief Counsel, based in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He began working for TSA as a security screener. He has an unblemished record. But in April 2020, his security clearance was suspended, and he was suspended from his job without pay. He was told only that the suspension of his clearance was based on “potentially disqualifying information regarding your Personal and Criminal Conduct.” He was never charged with any crime or misconduct. He had no income for nearly a year, using up his savings and withdrawing from his retirement fund, and struggling to support his family.
The courts have ruled that an employee is entitled to be given the reasons for the suspension of a security clearance, so that the employee can respond in a meaningful way. Stonewalling an employee, as TSA stonewalled Mr. Cruz-Martin, is not only unfair to the employee, but also to the agency, which can’t make an informed decision without hearing the employee’s side of the story.
After 11 months of suspension without pay, Mr. Cruz-Martin was finally notified that “there was no supported evidence to substantiate the allegations” that had been made against him—whatever they were. His security clearance was reinstated and he returned to duty. TSA then agreed to provide him with full back pay and restoration of all benefits, to pay his attorneys’ fees, and to erase the improper suspension from his record.
“I’ve been a loyal TSA employee for nearly 20 years,” said Mr. Cruz-Martin, “and yet they treated me like dirt. They took all my TSA equipment, barred me from my office and paraded me in front of other employees. They know I don’t actually need access to classified information to do my job, and I could have worked from home, like so many other people did during Covid, but instead they hung me out to dry for nearly a year, without pay, apparently because someone made up some false information about me. I hope TSA will learn from my experience that it doesn’t pay to treat employees this way.”
“This case shows why due process is so important. How can an innocent person defend himself if he’s never told what he’s accused of? TSA needs to do a better job of respecting the rights of its own employees," said Arthur Spitzer, Senior Counsel at the ACLU of the District of Columbia.
Mr. Cruz-Martin was represented by the ACLU of the District of Columbia and retired TSA attorney Patrice M. Scully.
The case is Rafael Cruz-Martin v. Department of Homeland Security, No. 2021-1014 (U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit). Further information is available here.