MADISON, Wis. — The whistleblower who turned to federal investigators and Wisconsin Watchdog to report claims of rampant corruption and cover-up in the Social Security Administration was placed on administrative leave Friday morning — hours after she went public with more allegations.
Deborah Holland, a manager at the Madison Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, was walked out of her office by two armed security guards, at the request of the local ODAR’s chief Administrative Law Judge Debra Meachum.
Meachum told the long-time SSA employee she is being removed from her management position and stripped of all supervisory duties and placed on administrative leave for the rest of day. Holland is being made a project manager for the Chicago Region 5 office, working under the same administrators she has testified against and who, she claims, have protected Madison Hearing Office Director Laura Hodorowicz and staff manager Wayne Gentz.
“This isn’t just retaliation against me … it’s a clear ploy to protect Wayne (Gentz) when he appears in court a week from today,” Holland told Wisconsin Watchdog. “They want him to say that I was removed so he can use that in his defense.”
On Thursday, Holland sought and received a temporary restraining order against Gentz. He has a “lengthy history of aggressive” and threatening behavior toward ODAR staff members, Holland and other whistleblowers told Wisconsin Watchdog. Some of those accusations are documented in reports to the SSA’s Office of Inspector General, which is conducting an investigation into complaints of misconduct and retaliation at the Madison office, and the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which has opened an inquiry into Milwaukee and Madison ODAR operations.
“In my mind this is clearly retaliatory in a number of ways and this recording will prove that,” Holland said.
Holland recorded her exchange with Meachum. In the audio, the judge advises Holland she is being placed on administrative leave because of the restraining order and because “the number of things that have happened require an independent investigation.”
“Management has concerns about the tone and the comments of your emails, which are demanding with ultimatums and threatening,” Meachum tells Holland.
And then the judge makes it clear she doesn’t like this whistleblower talking to federal investigators, Senate committees and the press.
“I can’t always trust in your ability to keep sensitive information confidential,” Meachum said, adding that “other employees in office have alleged that you are creating a hostile work environment for them.”
Perhaps those “other employees” include Hodorowicz, who is accused of bribing and punishing employees to hide corruption in the office. Or maybe Administrative Law Judge John Pleuss, who is accused of sexually harassing staff members for years and who was found to have written grossly inappropriate comments about disability claimants who have appealed their cases before him.
Meachum seems to lose her cool after Holland tells her that supervisors have ignored or swept under the rug myriad complaints from employees.
“I understand you have many complaints. I understand you claim you have whistleblower status,” Meachum says.
“It’s not a claim, I have whistleblower status,” Holland responds.
She does. Going all the way back to August 2015. When she filed her first complaint with OIG, she officially became a whistleblower, accorded protections and rights under federal law that apparently the SSA has failed to recognize.
Meachum then tells Holland there have been “so many allegations and threats, not only by you but towards you, that we need to do an investigation.”
“So you are aware of threats toward me and you have not advised me of that until right now?” Holland incredulously asks.
“I’m telling you right now,” Meachum responds.
“So why aren’t you guys taking action to address those threats?” Holland asks.
“We are taking action, would you just please comply with my request and stop causing trouble?” Meachum responds, attempting to cut off Holland’s line of questioning.
Meanwhile, the investigation into the Madison office continues.
Holland believes Friday was the first step in the agency attempting to move out — and eventually fire — an employee the SSA sees as “causing trouble.”