MADISON, Wis. – Investigators have been asking a lot of questions about allegations of misconduct and retaliation in the Social Security Administration’s offices of disability claims review.
And Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, has joined her Republican colleague in the Senate in calling for “immediate action” on addressing whistleblower accusations of bad behavior at the Madison Office of Disability Adjudication and Review.
Sources tell Wisconsin Watchdog that SSA’s Office of Inspector General is conducting a thorough investigation of conduct complaints, particularly those allegations surrounding Administrative Law Judge John Pleuss and Hearing Office Director Laura Hodorowicz.
As Wisconsin Watchdog first reported, Pleuss is accused of sexually harassing staff members and disability claimants. Wisconsin Watchdog last month obtained Pleuss’ case notes in which he described claimants with adjectives like “buxom,” “cute,” and, in the case of a black woman appearing before him, “gorilla-like.”
Multiple whistleblowers accuse Pleuss of inappropriately touching and addressing them, and deciding disability cases based on the physical attractiveness of claimants.
“There is a culture of corruption and cover-up, and that goes all the way to the top,” an ODAR employee with knowledge of the situation told Wisconsin Watchdog in early June. The staff member spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.
Sources also claim Hodorowicz and other administrators have retaliated against them, and have effectively bribed employees, rewarding them for their loyalty and silence.
U.S. Sen Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, on June 14 sent a letter to Carolyn Colvin, informing the SSA’s acting commissioner that the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has opened an inquiry into reports of misconduct and retaliation in both the Madison and Milwaukee ODAR facilities. Johnson is chairman of that panel.
Committee staff members say they are waiting for the Social Security Administration to turn over the requested documents and accompanying information.
In a letter sent out last week, Baldwin said her office was contacted by a Madison ODAR employee in September 2015. The senator said she put the whistleblower in touch with the Office of Special Counsel, then followed up with the SSA’s Office of the Inspector General in February because “the employee had not yet received confirmation of a formal complaint filed with the OIG hotline in September 2015.”
“Thus, I find it troubling that no apparent disciplinary action has been taken over 9 months,” Baldwin wrote. “Since then, media reports have echoed serious allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct, as well as waste, fraud and abuse.”
She said that she was particularly troubled by the allegations surrounding Pleuss.
“His hearing notes reveal overtly racist and sexist descriptions of claimants, which I find abhorrent,” Baldwin wrote. “In light of this information, I am requesting that all of the judge’s previous cases be reviewed to ensure his personal views did not adversely affect his rulings.”
An attorney who represents claimants in the Madison office told Wisconsin Watchdog he is seeking review of all of his cases before Pleuss.
Baldwin wants to know how many cases Pleuss decided over his tenure with Social Security Administration, and she is demanding a “full report” of findings.
“In light of an apparent lack of disciplinary action since my previous correspondence, I believe it is time for you to intervene and ensure that the Madison ODAR office is a safe work environment, free from inappropriate behavior, that provides the highest-quality service to my constituents,” Baldwin wrote to Colvin.
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