Court: Googling an employee name not a federal offense

U.S. judges deem it legal to use Google to look up an employee's work history

A panel of three federal judges upheld a decision by the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) that says a fired federal employee wasn't harmed when a federal official used the Google search engine to research his prior work history.

The decision by the federal judges stemmed from the 2005 firing of David M. Mullins, an employee of the U.S. Commerce Department. Mullins was fired for misusing a government vehicle and credit card and falsifying travel documents.

After he was fired, Mullins appealed to the MSPB, a Washington-based independent quasi-judicial agency established to ensure adequate protection for employees against abuses by agency management.

In his appeal, Mullins contended that Valeria Capell, the Commerce Department official who was assigned to investigate the allegations against him, violated his "right to fundamental fairness" by using information about his prior work history that was gleaned from a Google search on Mullins' name. Information from the search engine showed that Mullins had been fired from the Smithsonian Institution and from a civil service job with the U.S. Air Force.

Mullins alleged that Capell committed perjury when she told the MSPB that his prior work history did not affect her decision to authorize his firing from his Commerce Department job.

The MSPB ruled last June that Capell did not use the information from the Google searches to make her decision to fire Mullins and dismissed his claims of prejudice.

In its May 4 decision, the judges from the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia agreed with the MSPB and found that the Commerce Department was within its rights to fire Mullins.

Mullins, who lives in Avon, Ind., could not be reached for comment.

According to the federal court decision, Mullins, a technician at the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration's Weather Forecast Office, part of the Commerce Department, was fired because he misused a government vehicle on 78 occasions.

For example, although Mullins worked in Indianapolis, his government-issued credit card records indicated he bought gas in Tennessee and Ohio. When confronted with the information, Mullins admitted he misused his government vehicle. He also admitted to making unauthorized cash withdrawals on his government-issued credit card as well as falsifying travel documents.

Mullins said he legitimately "made money on government travel" by sleeping in his government vehicle and submitting fabricated hotel receipts.

"Because Mr. Mullins's two prior job losses did not affect Ms. Capell's decision to remove Mr. Mullins, the record shows no prejudice," the judges wrote. "Indeed, on April 22, 2005, before Ms. Capell discovered Mr. Mullins's two prior job losses, [the Commere Department} had already outlined 102 specifications to support the ... charges of misuse and misconduct against Mr. Mullins."

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Linda Rosencrance

Computerworld
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?