A Ladera Ranch man who disclosed the government was about to remove armed air marshals from overnight flights to save money on hotels was granted whistle-blower protection from the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday.
Robert J. MacLean told the national media about the planned cutback by the Transportation Security Administration in 2003. After members of Congress complained, the TSA reversed course and kept the air marshals intact.
Well, except for MacLean, who was fired as an air marshal three years later when TSA officials concluded he had disclosed sensitive security information to the media and fired him.
MacLean appealed to the Merit Systems Protection Board, but the TSA argued that the MSPB had no jurisdiction to challenge an agency order. A MSPB administrative judge dismissed the appeal without prejudice so MacLean could appeal to federal court. A U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit panel found that MacLean could contest his termination before the MSPB under the authority of the Whistleblower Protection Act.
But a full MSPB panel declared in June 2009 that MacLean was not protected under the Whistleblower Protection Act. He would go on to lose appeals within the MSPB, which affirmed the TSA's decision to terminate him.
A unanimous panel of three United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit Judges found that MacLean was entitled to protections under the Whistleblower Protection Act in April 2013. The TSA–actually, the Department of Homeland Security–appealed to the Supreme Court, which unveiled the 7-2 decision Wednesday that finds Congress wanted to shield whistle-blowers who disclose wrongdoing within the government. (Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Anthony Kennedy dissented.)
The DHS vs. MacLean ruling will not immediately lead to his reinstatement. He must now go back before the MSPB and argue his case again.