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The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) today announced that, at its request, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), reinstated and made whole Dr. Wendy Koch, an animal care officer, whose First Amendment rights were violated when she was disciplined for submitting an article for publication in her personal capacity.
APHIS suspended Dr. Koch when she refused to recall the article she submitted to a scientific journal providing guidance on how to avoid accidents causing potential harm to research animals. Dr. Koch submitted the article after consulting with USDA ethics officials and using an agency-approved disclaimer. APHIS officials speculated that the article could create potential confusion in the research community and issued Dr. Koch an order prohibiting her from publishing in her personal capacity and directing her to recall the article from the journal. Dr. Koch refused, and APHIS suspended her for 14 days.
Dr. Koch then filed a prohibited personnel practice complaint with OSC alleging, in part, that APHIS violated her First Amendment rights. OSC investigated and concluded that the agency had unlawfully restricted Dr. Koch's constitutional right to free speech. OSC shared its findings with APHIS, and the agency agreed to rescind the suspension and provide Dr. Koch with backpay and all associated benefits. The agency also agreed to take systemic corrective action, recognizing the need for written policy guidance for rules governing publications and other writings.
“I appreciate Dr. Koch's persistence in raising awareness about an issue important to her," said Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner. “I also applaud APHIS for rescinding its unlawful suspension and committing to establish appropriate guidelines for employees to exercise their First Amendment rights."