MADISON, Wis. – A federal employee who blew the whistle on alleged corruption and retaliation at the Madison Office of Disability Adjudication and Review on Thursday sought and received a temporary restraining order against a manager in the office.
Deborah Holland, also a manager at the ODAR facility, was granted a temporary harassment restraining order against her administrative peer, Wayne Gentz, according to Dane County Court documents. An injunction hearing is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. on Aug. 19.
Holland, who has agreed to go public with her story, claims Gentz, Hearing Office Director Laura Hodorowicz, and chief Administrative Law Judge Debra Meachum have repeatedly harassed and retaliated against her since she filed a misconduct complaint a year ago and took on the mantle of whistleblower.
Holland and whistleblowers allege there is a culture of corruption and cover-up at the Madison office, which reviews Social Security benefits claims.
She said Gentz has a “lengthy history of aggressive behavior” toward her and ODAR staff members.
“I have worked with him for almost nine years. He owns firearms and he has threatened to bring them in to the office and use them on employees,” Holland said. She has provided federal agents with emails and other documents that she says back her claims about Gentz’s threatening conduct. She provided an investigative document accusing Gentz of making a threat of violence against an employee who had filed a harassment complaint and was granted an Equal Employment Opportunity hearing. In another case, according to the document, Gentz made threatening comments about bringing in a knife and a gun to “use on” an ODAR employee he was angry at.
In her report to the agency’s Safety Team, Holland said that, “Wayne owns a fair number of firearms, and he will name the weapon and then make a statement about bringing it in to use when he is really upset with someone.”
Holland said her complaints about Gentz have mostly been ignored or laughed off by ODAR supervisors and administrators at the Social Security Administration’s Region 5 headquarters in Chicago. Gentz, according to multiple sources, was previously investigated on allegations of aggressive behavior at the Phoenix ODAR operations. He was accused of aggressively confronting an administrative law judge he had a disagreement with.
Gentz and Hodorwicz also like to pull out their “voodoo dolls” to make a point about what they’d like to do to “certain employees,” Holland wrote in her federal complaints.
“They use them to represent employees in the Madison office and regional office,” Holland wrote. “When I came back in October, (Wayne) had gotten a new doll that was clearly meant to represent me. Wayne took the doll and punched it over and over again. Laura was just sitting there, and they both laughed.”
Gentz could not be reached at his Madison-area home Thursday evening. He has not returned Wisconsin Watchdog’s messages left on his cellphone. Reached previously on her cellphone, Hodorowicz told Wisconsin Watchdog never to call her again.
An SSA spokesman repeatedly has said the agency cannot speak to personnel issues but that it does not tolerate harassment or retaliation in the workplace.
Holland said she received another round of harassing emails Thursday, beginning with Meachum, demanding information.
In an email to Holland, Hodorowicz and Gentz, Meachum wanted to know whether any of the managers violated her order not to talk about discussions concerning Administrative Law Judge John Pleuss, who is being investigated on sexual harassment and other misconduct allegations.
“At our Madison management meeting on Tuesday, we had a discussion about Judge Pleuss and his cases, and I requested that the information be kept confidential and only shared among us,” Meachum wrote. “Since our meeting on August 9th, did any of you share any of this information with someone outside the Madison management team? Again, I am talking specifically about the discussion we had last Tuesday afternoon about Judge Pleuss and his cases. Please respond immediately – yes or no.”
Wisconsin Watchdog on Wednesday reported that the regional SSA office needs “Pleuss’s permission” to reassign his hearings to someone else, according to an internal email.
Pleuss told Meachum that he plans to resume holding hearings on Aug. 30, as scheduled, an ODAR employee close to the situation told Wisconsin Watchdog.
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.”
“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 noted he was approving a female claimant’s appeal for disability payments because “she looks like she was ‘rode hard and put away wet.’”
Pleuss is accused of deciding cases based on the physical appearance of claimants.
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.
In a report to the Safety Team, Holland claimed Meachum accosted her in the bathroom to “once again demand I disclose confidential investigative information.”
In her response to Meachum’s email Thursday, Holland told the chief administrative law judge that her “repeated demands for confidential information constitutes harassment.”
“It also demonstrates a hostile attitude on your part towards me for being a whistleblower. If something in the multiple statements I have made to you regarding this topic is somehow unclear, let me explain once again: stop asking me for confidential investigative information. I am not going to disclose it.” Holland wrote.
Meachum responded the she was not seeking confidential information.
The whistleblower claims she and other employees who have stood up to management have been punished or called “crazy” or “paranoid,” while Hodorowicz and Gentz in particular have “either bought off or threatened” employees into silence. Holland alleges the corruption goes all the way to the top.
“They have created this fantasy land where they brag about being ‘untouchable’ because of the protection they have above them. They really do think they are above the law,” Holland said. “What they don’t know is that already in the hands of the Inspector General, the Senate Committee and Sen. (Ron) Johnson and Sen. (Tammy Baldwin) is irrefutable proof of quite a bit that’s going on.”
“The commitment of the whistleblowers is to see the Madison office become law-and policy-compliant,” she added. “That is what we are fighting for because the employees, the claimants and the taxpayers deserve that.”
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