MADISON, Wis. — The administrative law judge accused of sexual harassment and making racially and sexually charged comments about claimants has been removed from the Madison Office of Disability Adjudication and Review hearing roster, Wisconsin Watchdog has learned.
And agents from the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General are back in Madison this week conducting wide-ranging interviews for an investigation into corruption allegations, multiple sources say.
Judge John Pleuss’ hearings have been reassigned and he has been removed from the full docket of hearings and claims review, according to internal sources. Pleuss is not listed on the calendar through the rest of the year, ODAR employees said.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s retired, fired, or suspended. But it does mean the claimants are no longer subjected to this nonsense,” one source told Wisconsin Watchdog.
A spokesman for the Social Security Administration has repeatedly said the agency cannot speak on personnel matters but that it doesn’t tolerate retaliation, intimidation, or harassment in the workplace.
Word of Pleuss’ removal from the schedule comes three weeks after internal documents showed the embattled administrative law judge was quietly being moved back into the hearing rotation.
An ODAR hearing schedule from early August showed Pleuss presiding over disability review cases again in September. He had been missing from the hearing list in the wake of the scandal surrounding him.
Pleuss is accused of awarding disability benefits based on a claimant’s physical attractiveness.
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 he notes he is approving the female claimant’s appeal for disability payments, calling her “credible.” He also goes on to write “she looks like she was ‘rode hard and put away wet.’”
While Madison ODAR group manager and whistleblower Deborah Holland was stripped of her management duties after she went public with allegations of misconduct and retaliation at the office, Pleuss had been allowed to return to the hearing schedule.
Evan as SSA’s Office of Inspector General conducts its investigation into Pleuss and other allegations of 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 had noted Pleuss was scheduled to hear 35 cases in September.
Sens. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, and Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, have warned the Social Security Administration not to retaliate against whistleblowers, and Johnson, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee, has instructed SSA to cooperate with the committee’s inquiry.
Sources say the agency has failed to turn over numerous documents the committee has requested. And whistleblower Ron Klym, a veteran legal assistant at the Milwaukee ODAR facility, has been fired.
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