A Historic Settlement for Sherry Chen Against U.S. Government’s Wrongful Prosecutions**

Background of Sherry Chen: Sherry Chen was a hydrologist working at the Wilmington, Ohio office of the National Weather Service (NWS). NWS is an agency in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which is part of the federal government’s Department of Commerce. The NWS is the world’s largest weather organization, employing approximately 4,700 persons.

After moving to the U.S. for additional education, she worked for a number of years in the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. Then she started working for NWS in March 2007. Chen’s primary work was to develop, model, and significantly improfe flood prediction for over 2,000 miles along the Ohio River and its tributories.

Accusations Against Sherry Chen: In October 2014, the FBI came to her workplace and took her away in handcuffs in front of her co-workers to the shock and surprise of her colleagues. She was charged with making false statements to federal investigators and downloading data from a restricted government database in relation to a trip to visit family in China in 2012. And a month after her arrest, she was suspended from her job without pay. Chen said that she had accessed only publicly available information to help a former classmate. In March 2015, federal prosecutors dropped all changes without any explanation. Nevertheless, in March 2016, she was fired from her job as a hydrologist with the NWS.

In 2012, the Commerce Department’s internal security unit, the Investigations and Threat Management Service (ITMS) began unlawfully investigating Ms. Chen as part of a broad pattern of discrimination directed at Chinese Americans, leading to her baseless arrest and prosecution by the FBI and Justice Department. ITMS was officially disbanded last year, following a Senate report detailing how the unit had become a “rogue, unaccountable police force” that operated outside the law and “opened frivolous investigations on a variety of employees without evidence suggesting wrongdoing.”

After being fired from the job she had worked at for years, a federal administrative judge found that her termination by the NWS and NOAA was unlawful, and that Ms. Chen had been the victim of a “gross injustice.” After the government appealed, she was placed on indefinite leave, instead of being fired.

Sherry Chen’s Lawsuit Against the U.S. Government:

Ms. Chen asked herself “why do I have to accept the unfair and unjust treatment my government has given me? I am not just fighting for myself but for all victims of racial profiling so that it won’t happen again.” So around 2018 she filed a complaint for wrongful termination with the Merit System Protection
Board (MSPB). The MSPB was established to protect federal workers against abuses by their employers.

Finally, the settlement of that lawsuit was announced on November 10, 2022 at the time during the “International Society for the Study of Oversea Chinese” (ISSCO) conference in San Francisco. The results of the settlement include:

  • Ms. Chen will receive $550,000 from the Commerce Department
  • Ms. Chen will receive an annuity valued at over $1.25 million over 10 years
  • The Commerce Department will host a private meeting between Ms. Chen and a senior National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration official, where they plan to discuss wrongdoing at multiple levels of the agency and the importance of anti-discrimination reforms
  • The Commerce Department will also provide Ms. Chen with a letter acknowledging her extensive accomplishments during her years of service as a government hydrologist.

The settlement is one of the largest paid to an individual plaintiff in Commerce Department history. Nevertheless, the compensation just covered her legal fees and her back wages. It cannot compensate for the disruption to her life, and the mental anguish she and her family members had to suffer.

Implications and Lessons Learned:

It took a decade for Sherry Chen to win some kind of justice. How many people can afford to be suspended from their career for so long and put themselves in a seemingly endless legal battle.

Despite the victory, it is important to remember that this was a decade of Sherry’s life,” says Gang Chen, the MIT Mechanical Engineering professor experiencing similar charges from the U.S. government under the “China Initiative.”

Sherry Chen, Gang Chen, and Xiaoxian Xi, another Chinese American scientist being falsely charged under the China Initiative all participated at the ISSCO conference in San Francisco, and all have been fighting against the false charges against them.

During this time, these people and their family members’ lives are turned completely upside down, their reputation is destroyed, and their finances are completely taking up by the huge legal expenses.

We need to be constantly alert in the atmosphere of demonizing China and take actions against it.

Anti-Chinese hate crimes must not be tolerated, especially when it was originated by the government.

We are really grateful for the courage, stamina, and sacrifices displayed by these pacesetters. We hope that we can follow their blazing footsteps.


** Normally this Taiji page in my website is reserved for articles on the subject of Taiji. However, because of the importance and timeliness of the recently (Nov. 10, 2022) announced settlement in two lawsuits from the American hydrologist Sherry Chen against the U.S. government for the U.S.’s wrongful prosecution and termination from her job as a hydrologist at the U.S.’s National Weather Service, we have made an exception to this website and have replaced my Taiji article in this page with this most important and timely decision on the Sherry Chen’s legal lawsuit settlement.

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One Response to “A Historic Settlement for Sherry Chen Against U.S. Government’s Wrongful Prosecutions**”

  1. larry tan says:

    it is thrilling to read the writing on Ms. Sherry Chen’s final result of her prolonged legal battle against US commerce Dept., its corruption and racial discrimination practices are beyond imagination, make me wonder if we are still living in a so-called Democracy and justice country?

    Regardless, cheers to Sherry Chen for prevailing the 10-years hardship and obtained the final win. As an Chinese American, I encourage everyone of us should be strong and resilient when fighting the unfair prosecutions like this one.

    Best, Larry, a retired silicon valley techie.

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