MADISON, Wis. — The Social Security Administration judge accused of sexual harassment and awarding disability claims based on his physical attraction to claimants was removed from his office Monday morning, according to multiple sources.
Administrative Law Judge John Pleuss was escorted out of the Madison Office of Disability Adjudication and Review by armed guards, sources told Wisconsin Watchdog. Sherry Thompson, outgoing chief administrative law judge for SSA’s Region 5, arrived in Madison from Chicago headquarters shortly before Pleuss’ removal, ODAR insiders said.
“This is the beginning of justice being served,” one ODAR source told Wisconsin Watchdog.
Pleuss, according to multiple sources, has been under investigation on allegations of sexual harassment of Madison ODAR employees and making inappropriate comments about the people who have appealed to him for Social Security benefits.
As Wisconsin Watchdog first reported in June, Pleuss, in his case files, described claimants as “attractive,” innocent-looking, “buxom.” In one case, he noted that 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 ALJ wrote, and parenthetically he added,“(actually a gorilla-like appearance).”
In one document, Pleuss wrote, “I’ll pay this lady when hell freezes over!”
In another of Pleuss’ “writing instructions” to his legal assistants, the judge approved a female claimant’s appeal for disability payments, calling her “credible.” He also noted “she looks like she was ‘rode hard and put away wet.’”
A Social Security Administration Region 5 spokesman did not return a request for comment. The agency has repeatedly said it cannot comment on personnel matters or on ongoing SSA Office of the Inspector General investigations.
Federal agents have investigated allegations of misconduct and whistleblower retaliation at the Madison and Milwaukee ODAR offices for months. The Social Security offices have been described as promoting a “culture of corruption and cover-up.”
In Milwaukee, federal whistleblower Ron Klym first brought to light in May allegations of long delays and administrative games that denied claimants their due process rights. He also claims the office is steeped in nepotism and led by managers bent on rewarding waste, fraud and abuse, and punishing those who report it.
Whistleblowers report many of the same claims of misconduct and retaliation at the Madison office, with allegations about Pleuss’ conduct merely the tip of the iceberg. The whistleblowers accuse Madison’s former hearing office director, who also has been removed from her supervisory position, of operating a system of rewards and punishments in support of inner-office corruption.
One of the whistleblowers was also escorted out of the office and stripped of her management duties. She is working on special projects for the Chicago office.
Pleuss had been removed from the hearing schedule but remained on the agency roster, continuing to make his government salary of at least $167,000 per year, according to federal wage records.
“The Madison staff was previously informed their office could not afford essential office supplies to serve the public. Yet Pleuss was wandering around the office doing nothing, while still collecting his full salary,” a source with knowledge of the situation said. “People are quite happy to see him go.”
Thompson also is on her way out.
As Wisconsin Watchdog reported last month, the embattled chief administrative law judge and Assistant Regional Chief Administrative Law Judge John J. Rabaut have announced they will resign from their leadership positions at the end of the year.
Other Region 5 managers have either voluntarily transferred into other positions or have been forced to do so, according to SSA sources.
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