Q & A Session – Douglas Factors and Unauthorized Use of Computer


Ask the Lawyer received the following question (paraphrased for easier reading and clarity) from a reader on a legal matter that might be of interest to the entire audience.


Can you provide a complete analysis of the Douglas factors from a case concerning unauthorized use of a computer system?


The Douglas factors are a list of twelve issues which are widely used in determining the appropriate penalty for the non-criminal misconduct of a Federal employee. They are named for the case in which the factors were first outlined, Douglas v. Veterans Admin., 5 M.S.P.R. 280 (1981).

The Merit Systems Protection Board has issued several decisions regarding unauthorized use of a computer system which may prove useful to you. Morrison v. N.A.S.A., 65 M.S.P.R. 348 (1994), discusses several Douglas factors in determining the penalty for an employee who stored explicit images on his government computer. In a second case, Biniak v. Social Sec. Admin., 90 M.S.P.R. 682 (2002), the MSPB reviewed several Douglas factors relating to a case of an employee who used a government computer system to run a private financial planning business.

Also, check out the Ask the Lawyer column titled “Weight Douglas Factors in Disciplinary Cases” at: http://blogs.federaltimes.com/federal-law/2011/01/09/weigh-douglas-factors-in-disclipinary-cases/.


Bill Bransford is managing partner of Shaw, Bransford & Roth, PC.

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About Author

Debra Roth

Debra L. Roth is a partner at the law firm Shaw Bransford & Roth, a federal employment law firm in Washington, D.C. She is general counsel to the Senior Executives Association and the Federal Managers Association, host of the “FEDtalk” program on Federal News Radio, and a regular contributor to Federal News Radio’s “Federal Drive” morning show. Email your legal questions to lawyer@federaltimes.com.

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