MADISON, Wis. – The slang phrase, “rode hard and put away wet,” can refer to someone who has lived a rough life.
It can also refer to the poor condition of a horse that has been worked too hard.
In less refined slang circles the saying often refers to women with loose morals.
Some staff members at the Madison Office of Disability Adjudication and Review want to know in what universe is it appropriate for an administrative law judge to turn the phrase when referring to a claimant.
Wisconsin Watchdog has obtained new documents from the files of Administrative Law Judge John Pleuss, already under investigation on allegations of sexual harassment of Madison ODAR employees and making inappropriate comments about the people who have appealed to him for Social Security benefits.
More so, Pleuss is accused of making his rulings based on the physical attractiveness of claimants.
As Wisconsin Watchdog first reported in June, Pleuss in his case files described claimants as “attractive,” innocent-looking, “buxom.” In one case, he noted that a “young, white (woman)”appearing before him “looks like a man.”
“Obese, young, white (female) skimpy black top,” he wrote of another claimant.
“Very black, African looking (female),” the ALJ wrote, and parenthetically he added,“(actually a gorilla-like appearance).”
In one document, Pleuss wrote, “I’ll pay this lady when hell freezes over!”
Now comes a document from the judge that one ODAR employee describes as the “most egregious example” of Pleuss’ long history of sexual and racist comments.
In Pleuss’ “writing instructions” to his legal assistants, the judge approves a female claimant’s appeal for disability payments, calling her “credible.” He also goes on to write that “she looks like she was ‘rode hard and put away wet.’”
Social Security Administration officials have said they cannot comment on internal issues, but they do take such misconduct allegations seriously.
Marilyn Zahm, president of the Association of Administrative Law Judges, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last month that Pleuss should not have used the language that appeared in case notes, but she insisted that the ALJ does not discriminate against claimants based on their race or appearance.
“Pleuss is trying to defend himself by saying that the sexual and racist comments are only in his personal notes. That has never been true,” an ODAR employee told Wisconsin Watchdog. The employee asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.
Sources told Wisconsin Watchdog that the SSA’s Office of Inspector General, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, chaired by Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, and the office of Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, each has been provided a copy of the latest Pleuss document.
Beth De Lima, president of human resources specialist HRM Consulting Inc., said Pleuss sounds like a “clueless employee” in dire need of sensitivity training. She said any one of Pleuss’ comments could point to a particular bias, but the administrative law judge, De Lima said, appears to be an “equal opportunity” offender of inappropriate behavior.
The bigger problem is Pleuss’ chain of command, the HR expert said.
“At this point, based on the information you provided me, it is not the ALJ’s problem. He’s not doing anything differently than what his supervisors and HR allowed him to do. They are not doing their job, and the question is, why are they not doing their job?” De Lima said. “If someone had held him to task, he’d be gone, he’d be early retired, or suspended or counseled or coached. And if in fact he has not, that means someone is not doing their job.”
Whistleblowers in the Madison and Milwaukee ODAR centers said there is an environment of “corruption and cover-up” that goes all the way to the top of the Social Security Administration. Those who bring complaints of misconduct or incompetence to their managers are routinely punished, they said.
The Senate committee has opened an inquiry into the Social Security Administration’s disability claims review offices, and has asked the agency turn over relevant documents. Baldwin recently wrote a letter to the Social Security Administration’s acting commissioner demanding immediate action on multiple complaints of harassment and retaliation.
In the writing instructions approving disability benefits for the unnamed claimant, Pleuss appropriately details the many reasons for his decision. He notes multiple health impairments that would prevent the woman from gainful employment. But his ending comment that the claimant appeared to have been “rode hard and put away wet” doesn’t seem to be an allowable descriptor in the benefits review process.
De Lima, an expert in the field of governmental human resources, said public employers are notorious for tolerating and perpetuating incompetence.
“We are starting to make sure we have corporations toe the these lines. We need to see government agencies rise to the same levels of accountability,” she said.
- Deadly Delay: Whistleblower alleges misconduct, incompetence in Social Security office
- Johnson seeks answers to Social Security whistleblower’s charges
- Social Security disability program has plenty of problems elsewhere
- Social Security whistleblower placed on administrative leave
- Social Security disability agency has history of punishing whistleblowers
- Senator to Social Security Administration official: ‘I would say the system is rigged’
- Whistleblower: ‘I want to do my work without fear of retaliation’
- Social Security whistleblowers ‘coming out of the woodwork’
- Social Security whistleblower suspended after going public with complaints
- Social Security whistleblower questioned by investigators after going public
- Social Security whistleblower now faces firing
- Social Security officials not answering questions about whistleblower retaliation
- ‘Culture of corruption and cover-up’ alleged in Madison Social Security office
- Ron Johnson: We’re tracking down abuse allegations in Social Security agency
- Senate committee presses for answers from troubled Social Security Administration
- Sources: Social Security judge suspended in wake of Madison scandal
- Attorney seeks appeal of decisions by Social Security judge accused of ‘sexy’ comments
- Social Security appeals judge pleads guilty to retaliation charge
- More retaliation despite investigation, Social Security office sources say
- Openly gay whistleblower at Social Security office claims intimidation, retaliation
- Wheels of justice turn frustratingly slow for Social Security whistleblowers
- Baldwin joins Johnson in calling for ‘immediate action’ on Social Security misconduct claims
- Documents: Social Security judge wrote claimant was ‘rode hard and put away wet’
- Social Security judge investigated for harassment heading back to hearings
- Social Security judge accused of misconduct refuses to step aside, sources say
- Whistleblower at scandal-plagued Social Security office seeks restraining order against manager
- Whistleblower report alleges widespread waste, fraud, abuse at Social Security office
- Sen. Johnson to Social Security commissioner: Retaliation will not be tolerated
- Baldwin warns Social Security Administration not to retaliate
- Social Security Administration fires whistleblower
- Who is protecting Social Security whistleblowers?
- Sources: Social Security judge accused of racial, sexual remarks removed from hearings
- Social Security office director removed from Madison facility, sources say
- Senate committee probe into Social Security whistleblower retaliation continues
- Madison Social Security office like ‘giant dysfunctional family,’ source says
- Damage spreads at scandal-plagued Social Security office
- Fired Social Security whistleblower gets no help from federal whistleblower protector
- One month later, Social Security whistleblower still without job, pay, answers
- Federal agents stepping up investigation into troubled Social Security offices
- Investigation into troubled Social Security offices in a ‘holding pattern’
- Recent weeks bring shake-up at scandal-plagued Social Security offices
- Top judges resign at troubled Social Security Chicago headquarters
- Social Security chief judge retiring amid cloud of scandal
- Troubled Social Security disability claims agency promotes ‘positive organization culture’
- Senate inquiry into scandal-plagued Social Security offices plods along
- Social Security whistleblower: ‘Everything has been compromised’
- Sources: Social Security judge accused of sexual harassment removed from Madison office
- Fired Social Security whistleblower won’t be taking whistleblower protection training
- Letter: Social Security judge under fire granted power to decide
- Sources: Social Security judge accused of deciding cases on sex appeal retires
- Johnson seeks GAO review of alleged Social Security ‘shell game’
- Social Security judge demanded $65,000 expanded bathrooms
- Investigation finds abuse, law-breaking, no retaliation at Madison Social Security office
- Report: Social Security managers gambled, watched Packers at Lambeau on taxpayer dime
- Inspector General releases major findings of probe into troubled Social Security office
- Social Security whistleblower waiting for answers in privacy breach case
- A whistleblower’s story: Paying the price for shining a light
- Fired SSA employee featured in Watchdog investigation is ‘Whistleblower of the Year’