MacLean v. Dep't of Homeland Sec., No. 11-3231 (Fed. Cir. 2013)Annotate this Case
In 2003 Federal Air Marshals were told of a potential hijacking plot. Soon after that, the Agency sent an unencrypted text message to the Marshals’ cell phones temporarily cancelling missions on flights from Las Vegas. Marshal MacLean became concerned that this created a danger. He unsuccessfully complained to his supervisor and to the Inspector General, then spoke to an MSNBC reporter. MSNBC published an article, and the Agency withdrew the directive after members of Congress joined the criticism. In 2004, MacLean appeared on NBC Nightly News in disguise to criticize Agency dress code, which he believed allowed Marshals to be easily identified. During the subsequent investigation, MacLean admitted that he revealed the cancellation directive. MacLean was removed from his position for unauthorized disclosure of sensitive security information (SSI). Although the Agency had not initially labeled the message as SSI, it subsequently ordered that its content was SSI. The Ninth Circuit rejected MacLean’s challenge to the order. MacLean then challenged termination of his employment, arguing he had engaged in protected whistleblowing activity. An ALJ and the Merit Systems Protection Board concluded that the disclosure was specifically prohibited by 5 U.S.C. 2302(b)(8)(A) and that unauthorized disclosure of SSI was a non-retaliatory reason for removal. The Federal Circuit vacated and remanded, finding that the Board incorrectly interpreted the Whistleblower Protection Act.