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Social Security judge accused of misconduct refuses to step aside, sources say

By   /   August 10, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 25 of 61 in the series Deadly Delays

MADISON, Wis. – The Social Security administrative law judge accused of sexually harassing employees and deciding disability benefits “based on the claimant’s breast size and sex appeal” refuses to step aside from his cases, sources say.

And the people who decide the hearing schedule at the Madison Office of Disability Adjudication and Review appear to be going out of their way to respect Judge John Pleuss’ wishes, according to information obtained by Wisconsin Watchdog.

Hearing Office Director Laura Hodorowicz, who, like Pleuss is being questioned by federal agents investigating allegations of widespread corruption and misconduct, told office staff Tuesday that the regional Social Security Administration office in Chicago needs “Pleuss’s permission” to reassign his hearings to someone else, according to an internal email.

Pleuss is refusing to do so, and he told chief Administrative Law Judge Debra Meachum that he plans to resume holding hearings on Aug. 30, as scheduled, an ODAR employee close to the situation told Wisconsin Watchdog.

Watchdog.org file photo

SEEKING PERMISSION: A source says that Social Security Administration managers claim they need the “permission” of a judge accused of misconduct before they can remove him from disability benefits hearings.

Hodorowicz said she was informed by Victor Glowacki at SSA’s Chicago Regional Office to resume scheduling Pleuss cases again “because we can’t let him just sit there and not do anything,” said the source, who asked not to be identified for fear of continued retaliation.

Doug Nguyen, spokesman for the SSA’s Region 5 in Chicago, once again said he cannot comment on personnel matters. He insisted that the agency does not tolerate harassment, retaliation or other wrongdoing, “and we take aggressive steps to investigate reports of inappropriate or illegal activity and address any findings.”

Here is what Pleuss is accused of doing:

As Wisconsin Watchdog first reported in June, Pleuss in his notes to legal assistants described claimants as “attractive,” “innocent-looking,” “buxom.” In one case, he noted 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 judge wrote, and parenthetically he added,“(actually a gorilla-like appearance).”

In other “writing obstructions” penned by Pleuss to his legal assistants, the judge notes he is approving a female claimant’s appeal for disability payments because “she looks like she was ‘rode hard and put away wet.’”

The conclusion that Pleuss has decided cases “based on the claimant’s breast size and sex appeal” is from a whistleblower’s report to the Office of Inspector General.

Even as SSA’s Office of Inspector General conducts an investigation of misconduct, corruption, harassment and retaliation in the Madison and Milwaukee offices, and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee holds an inquiry into ODAR manager conduct, the schedule shows Pleuss set to hear dozens of cases in September, Wisconsin Watchdog reported last week.

RELATED: Social Security judge investigated for harassment heading back to hearings

But the larger problem, whistleblowers say, goes back to complaints of due process violations initially made by an employee at the Milwaukee Office of Disability Adjudication and Review.

“Pleuss also has 43 cases that have been heard, written, and edited that are in sign status. He is refusing to allow those to be reassigned to anyone else either,” one ODAR source told Wisconsin Watchdog.

The oldest case in that group of 43 requested a hearing on Jan. 14, 2014, the source said.

“In fact, 30 of those 43 cases requested a hearing in 2014. Nine of them requested a hearing in 2015. Only 4 of them requested a hearing in 2016,” the source said. “What that means is that the claimants continue to sit and wait to learn the decision that has already been made in their case, because Pleuss is refusing to allow the cases to be reassigned. Yes, some of them may need to be reheard, but as long as he keeps them it delays someone else hearing them. Some of them may be able to be signed by someone else as is.”

Ron Klym, a longtime legal assistant at the Milwaukee ODAR facility, in May told Wisconsin Watchdog that the office’s backlog of cases had run to 700 days or greater. In portions of northeast Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, claimants have waited more than 900 days for the appeals process to conclude, some beyond 1,000 days. Attorneys reported their clients dying before a decision was rendered.

Beyond the delays is what Klym calls the “shell game,” the wholesale transferring of cases to other parts of the country by administrators to make the Milwaukee office’s numbers look better than they are.

Klym faces the loss of his job, a retaliatory move for blowing the whistle, the federal employee has said.

In Madison, attorneys representing claimants before Pleuss have been calling the Madison office demanding a different judge for their clients, sources say.

“There is all kinds of swirling from the representative community because they do not trust him,” one source said.

“I am thoroughly sick of the way the guilty parties continue to focus on themselves – their rights, their feelings, their opinions, their personal gain – while they all but ignore the fact that the claimant even exists,” the source said.

Part of 61 in the series Deadly Delays
  1. Deadly Delay: Whistleblower alleges misconduct, incompetence in Social Security office
  2. Johnson seeks answers to Social Security whistleblower’s charges
  3. Social Security disability program has plenty of problems elsewhere
  4. Social Security whistleblower placed on administrative leave
  5. Social Security disability agency has history of punishing whistleblowers
  6. Senator to Social Security Administration official: ‘I would say the system is rigged’
  7. Whistleblower: ‘I want to do my work without fear of retaliation’
  8. Social Security whistleblowers ‘coming out of the woodwork’
  9. Social Security whistleblower suspended after going public with complaints
  10. Social Security whistleblower questioned by investigators after going public
  11. Social Security whistleblower now faces firing
  12. Social Security officials not answering questions about whistleblower retaliation
  13. ‘Culture of corruption and cover-up’ alleged in Madison Social Security office
  14. Ron Johnson: We’re tracking down abuse allegations in Social Security agency
  15. Senate committee presses for answers from troubled Social Security Administration
  16. Sources: Social Security judge suspended in wake of Madison scandal
  17. Attorney seeks appeal of decisions by Social Security judge accused of ‘sexy’ comments
  18. Social Security appeals judge pleads guilty to retaliation charge
  19. More retaliation despite investigation, Social Security office sources say
  20. Openly gay whistleblower at Social Security office claims intimidation, retaliation
  21. Wheels of justice turn frustratingly slow for Social Security whistleblowers
  22. Baldwin joins Johnson in calling for ‘immediate action’ on Social Security misconduct claims
  23. Documents: Social Security judge wrote claimant was ‘rode hard and put away wet’
  24. Social Security judge investigated for harassment heading back to hearings
  25. Social Security judge accused of misconduct refuses to step aside, sources say
  26. Whistleblower at scandal-plagued Social Security office seeks restraining order against manager
  27. Whistleblower report alleges widespread waste, fraud, abuse at Social Security office
  28. Sen. Johnson to Social Security commissioner: Retaliation will not be tolerated
  29. Baldwin warns Social Security Administration not to retaliate
  30. Social Security Administration fires whistleblower
  31. Who is protecting Social Security whistleblowers?
  32. Sources: Social Security judge accused of racial, sexual remarks removed from hearings
  33. Social Security office director removed from Madison facility, sources say
  34. Senate committee probe into Social Security whistleblower retaliation continues
  35. Madison Social Security office like ‘giant dysfunctional family,’ source says
  36. Damage spreads at scandal-plagued Social Security office
  37. Fired Social Security whistleblower gets no help from federal whistleblower protector
  38. One month later, Social Security whistleblower still without job, pay, answers
  39. Federal agents stepping up investigation into troubled Social Security offices
  40. Investigation into troubled Social Security offices in a ‘holding pattern’
  41. Recent weeks bring shake-up at scandal-plagued Social Security offices
  42. Top judges resign at troubled Social Security Chicago headquarters
  43. Social Security chief judge retiring amid cloud of scandal
  44. Troubled Social Security disability claims agency promotes ‘positive organization culture’
  45. Senate inquiry into scandal-plagued Social Security offices plods along
  46. Social Security whistleblower: ‘Everything has been compromised’
  47. Sources: Social Security judge accused of sexual harassment removed from Madison office
  48. Fired Social Security whistleblower won’t be taking whistleblower protection training
  49. Letter: Social Security judge under fire granted power to decide
  50. Sources: Social Security judge accused of deciding cases on sex appeal retires
  51. Johnson seeks GAO review of alleged Social Security ‘shell game’
  52. Social Security judge demanded $65,000 expanded bathrooms
  53. Investigation finds abuse, law-breaking, no retaliation at Madison Social Security office
  54. Report: Social Security managers gambled, watched Packers at Lambeau on taxpayer dime
  55. Inspector General releases major findings of probe into troubled Social Security office
  56. Social Security whistleblower waiting for answers in privacy breach case
  57. A whistleblower’s story: Paying the price for shining a light
  58. Fired SSA employee featured in Watchdog investigation is ‘Whistleblower of the Year’
  59. Social Security whistleblower calls out agency, media in receiving award from journalists
  60. SSA whistleblowers ask, where’s the justice?
  61. Probes into troubled Social Security offices crawling along

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M.D. Kittle is bureau chief of Wisconsin Watchdog and First Amendment Reporter for Watchdog.org. Kittle is a 25-year veteran of print, broadcast and online media. He is the recipient of several awards for journalism excellence from The Associated Press, Inland Press, the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, and others. He is also a member of Investigative Reporters & Editors. Kittle's extensive series on Wisconsin's unconstitutional John Doe investigations was the basis of a 2014 documentary on Glenn Beck's TheBlaze. His work has been featured in Town Hall, Fox News, NewsMax, and other national publications, and his reporting has been cited by news outlets nationwide. Kittle is a fill-in talk show host on the Jay Weber Show and the Vicki McKenna Show in Milwaukee and Madison.