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Baldwin warns Social Security Administration not to retaliate

By   /   August 19, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 29 of 61 in the series Deadly Delays

MADISON, Wis. – U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin is demanding the Social Security Administration put “an immediate stop” to retaliation against whistleblowers.

In a sternly worded letter Friday to SSA Acting Commissioner Carolyn Colvin, Baldwin noted “serious allegations of whistleblower retaliation” at SSA’s Offices of Disability Adjudication and Review in Milwaukee and Madison.

“I will not tolerate retaliation or intimidation against whistleblowers who have come forward with information related to an ongoing investigation into ODAR operations and ask for your assurance that the Social Security Administration will take appropriate action putting an immediate stop to any such retaliation,” the Madison Democrat said.

Whistleblower Deborah Holland, a manager at the Madison Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, was walked out of her office by two armed security guards a week ago, at the request of the local ODAR’s chief Administrative Law Judge Debra Meachum.

AP file photo

‘SERIOUS ALLEGATIONS’: U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin says she will not “tolerate retaliation or intimidation against whistleblowers” in the Social Security Administration investigation.

Holland was placed on administrative leave, removed from her management position and stripped of all supervisory duties. The long-time SSA employee is being made a project manager for the Chicago Region 5 office, working under the same administrators she has testified against and who, she alleges, have protected Madison Hearing Office Director Laura Hodorowicz and staff manager Wayne Gentz.

RELATED: Sen. Johnson to Social Security commissioner: Retaliation will not be tolerated

“Additionally, I am aware of an email the whistleblower received asking if information discussed during a management meeting was shared outside the office,” Baldwin wrote. “Other employees of the Madison and Milwaukee ODAR offices have contacted me about potential retaliatory actions. I have relayed each of these individual claims to OSC (Office of Special Counsel) and I understand their individual cases are moving forward.”

In a recorded conversation, Meachum tells Holland, “I can’t always trust in your ability to keep sensitive information confidential.” The judge added that “other employees in office have alleged that you are creating a hostile work environment for them.”

No other employees were named.

Among the employees in the office are 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. Pleuss, as of last week, remained on the schedule to hear disability claims cases.

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.’”

“Last month, I wrote to you about the important racist and sexist claimant descriptions a Madison ODAR administrative law judge allegedly included in hearing notes. I also shared evidence of this important language provided by a Madison ODAR employee with the OIG,” Baldwin wrote.

The OIG has launched a widespread investigation into the Milwaukee and Madison offices, and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has launched an inquiry into the ODAR operations. Last week, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, chairman of the committee, sent Colvin a letter advising that the Senate panel would not tolerate retaliation against whistleblowers.

“I ask that you immediately direct all SSA officials in the leadership chain of command for Madison (Office of Disability Adjudication and Review) hearing office to cease all attempts to identify officials who may be providing information to Congress or the Office of Inspector General, as well as any other potential retaliatory actions,” Johnson wrote.

Baldwin said the whistleblowers’ complaints “bring to light a long list of troubling allegations including misconduct, harassment, waste, fraud and abuse.”

“These federal employees are protected by federal law. Any attempt by management or the agency to prevent whistleblowers from communicating with my office or OIG is unacceptable,” Baldwin wrote.

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.