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.
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.
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.
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