Sherry Chen, Falsely Accused, Wins and is Restored to Her Job Protecting the American People
(New York, NY, April 26, 2018) – Sherry Chen, a naturalized citizen of the United States, has won in her lengthy struggle against the federal government to restore her good name. An award winning civil servant whose work predicting floods saved American lives, Chen was wrongly accused of crimes such as espionage, on behalf of China. In a criminal case that attracted nationwide attention including front-page coverage in the New York Times (here and here) and a profile on the 60 Minutestelevision show, she had already prevailed — prosecutors walked away from all charges against her, meaning she was and is as innocent as anyone else protected by our ideals of due process. Yet the National Weather Service terminated her from employment doing the job she loved at its offices near Cincinnati, Ohio.
Determined to stand up and speak out, Sherry challenged the termination decision through the Merit Systems Protection Board, an administrative system meant to protect hard-working public employees such as her. On April 23, the decision was issued that ordered she be returned to her work on behalf of the public and be given backpay. While the judge found that the agency could subject Sherry to a 15-day suspension (the “maximum reasonable penalty”) for a single comment in an email that had absolutely nothing to do with the more sensational allegations against her, the decision is a resounding victory for Sherry.
In the 118-page opinion, the judge also found:
Ms. Chen asserts that she is the “victim of a gross injustice.” After reviewing the evidence and testimony in this matter I believe Ms. Chen’s assertion is correct . . . It was, however, extremely evident by their demeanor, that both [decision-makers] were simply digging their heels in when it came time to support the decision they had made. . . . In short, [they] seemed more concerned about being right than doing the right thing. Based on the unyielding nature of their testimony, I would not have been surprised if they rejected that 2 + 2 = 4.
Based on the findings set forth above, I question whether I could sustain any of these specifications because of the poorly phrased questions along with the agents taking Ms. Chen’s responses out of context.
[The decision-makers] were unable to consider some documentary evidence because it was not in the agency file, [which the judge described as] “puzzling” and “troubling.”
Many others have helped Sherry, especially immigrants and those who believe our ideals of equal protection, seeing that she was the victim of racial profiling. As testimony showed, investigators assumed Sherry, born in China, would be disloyal to America even though she has lived here almost all her adult life. The Committee of 100 has supported Sherry through its Legal Defense & Education Fund during her campaign for fairness. In addition to Sherry’s case, C100 has identified others where individuals who are contributing to society have been singled out, for no reason other than their racial background. Professor Xiaoxing Xi, another naturalized citizen of the United States, has been featured in the press alongside Sherry in another, similar case with prosecutors dropping all of their claims. Dr. Wen Ho Lee, also a naturalized citizen, experienced the same unfair prejudice a generation ago.
These cases show that we have much to do to live up to our principles, but the individuals can make a difference with the community supporting them.