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Liston Monsanto v. Quinn

decided: March 11, 1982.



Before Hunter, Van Dusen and Sloviter, Circuit Judges.

Author: Sloviter



Before us is an appeal by Liston Monsanto, an employee of the Tax Division of the Virgin Islands Department of Finance, from an order of the district court of the Virgin Islands affirming the decision of the Virgin Islands Government Employees Service Commission*fn1 (GESC) that Monsanto be suspended from his job for ninety days without pay. Monsanto seeks a reversal of the ninety day suspension order, and an award of back wages for ninety days, together with costs for this action, including attorney's fees.

At the time of his suspension, Monsanto, who had been employed in the Department of Finance for approximately twenty-one years, held the position of Internal Revenue Officer IV within the delinquent accounts and returns branch of the Tax Division.*fn2 His primary duties included the investigation of delinquent taxpayers and the collection of taxes. During the period between October 1975 and the time of his suspension in August 1979 Monsanto, dissatisfied with the operation of the Tax Division, wrote a series of letters to Commissioner of Finance Leroy Quinn and Tax Division Director Anthony Olive in which he complained that the Division was poorly managed and that the morale of its employees was low; criticized the structure of the Division; and sought the elimination of certain employment positions. In at least one letter, Monsanto alleged that several of the employees of the Tax Division had attempted to defraud the government by filing fraudulent tax returns. Monsanto claimed that the problems in the Division were impairing the effectiveness of the Division's tax-collecting operations. Copies of most of the letters were also sent to the Governor and the Lieutenant Governor of the Virgin Islands.

On August 15, 1979 Fred Clarke, a broadcaster on a local radio show, summarized and discussed the contents of letters, allegedly those written to his supervisors by Monsanto, criticizing the Tax Division. In response to this broadcast, Commissioner Quinn on August 17, 1979 released a statement to the press in which he attacked the broadcast as "irresponsible reporting" and defended his integrity and that of the employees of the division. Clarke responded in a broadcast on August 20, 1979.

On August 24, 1979, Commissioner Quinn initiated dismissal proceedings against Monsanto by serving upon him a letter containing the following charges:

(1) Beginning in October 1975, you have been attempting to tarnish the image of the Tax Division, Department of Finance and the integrity of its employees through a stream of malicious letters. During the week of August 13th, and August 20th, 1979, you released letters to the media which contain such serious allegations as fraud and the preparation of fraudulent tax returns in an attempt to disrupt the operation of the Department of Finance, its Tax Division, Revenue Officers and employees.

(2) Beginning with your letter of June 9, 1976, and continuing (with thirteen letters through August 22, 1979) you have been engaged in character assassinations of your co-workers and supervisor who have refused to join you in your disruptive actions.

(3) On Monday, March 19, 1979, in the presence of your immediate supervisor, Mr. Robert Woods and the Director, Tax Division, Mr. Anthony Olive, you were ordered to discontinue using Government equipment, supplies and the letterhead of the Tax Division in writing these malicious letters. You were also ordered to discontinue hand-delivery of these letters during regular working hours at this same meeting, but this practice continues.

(4) You have failed to devote 8 hours each day to your job for which you are being paid.

(5) On December 20, 1978 you violated the disclosure rules of the Internal Revenue Code, Section 6013 (sic), of which you had full knowledge.

Quinn's letter notified Monsanto that his continued presence at his duty station "would be detrimental to the Department and the public interest" and he was therefore temporarily relieved with pay until action by the GESC. A copy was sent to the Governor with Quinn's recommendation that Monsanto be dismissed.

Monsanto appealed his proposed dismissal to the GESC, pursuant to 3 V.I.C. ยง 530(a).*fn3 The GESC conducted hearings, and made the following findings of fact:

(1) commencing in October 1975 and continuing to the present, Monsanto submitted "numerous letters" to government personnel, including the Commissioner of Finance and the Governor and Lieutenant Governor, "which had a disruptive effect on the operation of the Department of Finance";

(2) on August 13, 1979 and August 20, 1979 Monsanto "released letters to the media which further disrupted the workings of the Tax Division";

(3) Monsanto "wrote numerous letters and memoranda on Government stationery and utilized secretarial services in the Department of Finance, during regular working hours" and continued to do ...

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