Dispute over Whistleblower Access to Federal Court Intensifies
Washington, D.C. September 3, 2009. As reported in a front-page story of today’s Washington Times, internationally respected whistleblower, Bunnatine (Bunny) H. Greenhouse, has issued an appeal to the U.S. Senate to pass strong protections for all federal employees. Mrs. Greenhouse was the only major Bush Administration executive to challenge the Halliburton “no bid” Iraq reconstruction contracts.
In her letter, Ms. Greenhouse raises the concern that most federal employees, including herself, would be denied access to federal court and jury trials under the Senate bill: “If the Senate passes the bill as currently drafted most federal employees, including myself, will still never obtain court access.”
The Washington Times reports that some ranking officials continue to defend the Senate bill, and allege that most federal workers -including Ms. Greenhouse – could gain access to federal court.
At issue is an obscure provision inserted into the bill that limits federal court access to federal employees who suffer adverse action covered under a strict statutory definition of adverse action set forth in Section 7512 of the Civil Service Reform Act. Last year Ms. Greenhouse attempted to have her whistleblower claims heard in federal court claiming that her removal from the Senior Executive Service (SES) was covered under Section 7512. A September 2, 2008 ruling by the U.S. District Court held that Greenhouse’s removal from the SES was not an adverse action covered under Section 7512. A copy of the Court’s ruling is linked here.
“By limiting court access to only the small class of adverse actions covered under this obscure provision of the civil service law, Greenhouse is once again locked out of the courthouse, ” said Stephen Kohn, the Executive Director of the National Whistleblower Center.
“There is absolutely no doubt that under the Senate bill whistleblowers such as Ms. Greenhouse cannot obtain access to federal court relief when they are retaliated against for blowing the whistle. The federal court has already interpreted one of the key provisions contained in S. 372 in such a manner, which will deny Ms. Greenhouse her day in court even if the reform bill is signed into law. The Senate needs to fix the bill and ensure that whistleblowers who are removed from the Senior Executive Service and suffer other forms of adverse action, such as a hostile work environment, can obtain access to federal court protections,” Kohn said.
“We urge every American to read Bunny’s letter and TAKE ACTION! This is not a Democrat or Republican issue. This is not a partisan issue. This is an issue that goes to the heart of accountability and oversight. In the House of Representatives Democratic leader Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) joined with his republican colleague Todd Platts (R-PA) to introduce an effective whistleblower law that would give Bunny Greenhouse her day in court, The Senate and White House should follow this bi-partisan lead and ensure that the promises made to whistleblowers during the 2008 election campaign are fulfilled,” Kohn added.