CLE Masterminds: Peter E. Mina and Ralph C. Conte Discuss Federal Personnel Law

By District of Columbia Bar

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CLE Faculty chairs--Peter E. Mina: Associate Legal Advisor, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Ralph C. Conte: Attorney-Advisor, U.S. Department of the Treasury--discuss the D.C. Bar's Continuing Legal Education (CLE) course "Introduction to Federal Personnel Law Series 2012".

This series is designed for new federal employment law attorneys and other lawyers who practice within the federal government or who represent clients before federal agencies. The course will introduce participants to current practice and procedures.

Enjoy the Q&A!

What are you trying to address with this series? There are fundamental differences in the rules and processes that govern federal sector and private sector employees.  The federal sector EEO process is very distinct especially compared to the private sector process. This series will teach you the basics of how the federal sector EEO process works. For example, instead of contacting the EEOC to file a charge of discrimination, federal employees are required to use his/her agency’s administrative complaint process before proceeding to an EEOC hearing before an administrative judge.   Federal sector employment law is unique and this series will provide you with kernels of inside knowledge across a wide spectrum of subject areas that will help you avoid some common pitfalls.

What is a common pitfall? Many people practice employment law but aren’t familiar with federal personnel law, especially those who deal with the private sector. The procedures and practices are very unique.  For example, unlike at will employment in the private sector, federal employees who have completed a probationary period have the right to appeal a termination decision to the Merit Systems Protection Board.

Are whistleblower claims a hot issue?There has been a spike in the number of cases and the way the Merit Systems Protection Board is handling them has changed in the last 2 years. The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) uses its broad authority to actively pursue and investigate claims of whistleblower reprisal.

Do you have any practice tips? When under an investigation, know your rights as an employee. If your agency wants to investigate an employee’s alleged misconduct, what you say can be used against you.  But a lot depends upon the type of investigation and the administrative warning that will be given to the employee. Find out, for example, what would happen if you don’t cooperate in an investigation - will there be disciplinary action?  If so, it’s a compelled interview and what you say cannot be used against you in a criminal proceeding.

About Ralph C. Conte: Practiced in the area of employment litigation and personnel law for over 15 years.  He has started as a law clerk with the District of Columbia Superior Court, then served as an Assistant General Counsel with District of Columbia agencies, and subsequently as an associate with a law firm in Washington, D.C. representing federal employees in employment matters.  Mr. Conte made the transition to the federal government in 2008, serving as an Assistant General Counsel for the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, where he advised on employment matters as well as litigation before the EEOC, MSPB, and USDC.  Currently, Mr. Conte is an Attorney-Advisor within the Department of Treasury’s Office of General Counsel and advises on a wide range of personnel matters and represents Treasury in personnel litigation before the EEOC, MSPB, and OSC.  Mr. Conte is active in the D.C. Bar, Labor and Employment Law Section and serves as the section’s Community Outreach Coordinator.

About Peter E. Mina: Associate Legal Advisor at Immigration and Customs Enforcement where he represents the Agency in EEO complaints and disciplinary actions and advises the Agency on a wide spectrum of employment matters.  Before entering federal service in 2011, he spent nearly six years in private practice representing federal employees in disciplinary actions, EEO complaints and claims of whistleblower reprisal before the EEOC and MSPB.  Most recently, from 2009-2011, Peter was a Senior Associate at Tully Rinckey, PLLC.  Prior to joining Tully Rinckey, he was an Associate Attorney at Shaw, Bransford and Roth from 2006-2009. Mr. Mina currently serves as the Co-Chair of the MSPB Appeals Committee of the Federal Circuit Bar Association and has served as a panelist for a number of programs on federal personnel law.  In addition, he has published articles in the National Law Journal and Employee Relations Law Journal on whistleblower law and the rights of federal contractors. Mr. Mina holds a B.A. from the University of Virginia and a J.D. from Boston College Law School.