cyberFEDS® Washington Bureau: Coleman-Adebayo Back at EPA After Losing Disability Bid

Coleman-Adebayo Back at EPA After Losing Disability Bid

By Lisa Troshinsky
cyberFEDS® Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — An Environmental Protection Agency employee who was instrumental in the passage of major equal employment opportunity and whistleblower protection legislation — the Notification of Federal Employees Antidiscrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002 — has lost her bid for disability retirement and has been ordered back to her office.

A U.S. District Court dismissed Marsha Coleman-Adebayo‘s application in November and she returned to work at the agency on Dec. 29, an EPA spokesperson said. She had been teleworking from home after suffering health problems following her successful claim against the agency for racial and gender discrimination.

Whistleblower protection and how agencies deal with equal employment opportunity claims are gaining more attention as activists seek to pressure Congress to strengthen laws. In addition, federal agencies are under pressure to give federal employees greater opportunity to telework.

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Also on cyberFEDS®:

    • President urged to support telework (11/18/05)
    • EPA whistleblower sentenced to prison on financial charges (08/09/05)
    • OPM extends comment period on No FEAR discrimination training (05/26/05)
    • Lawmakers, activists lambaste poor response to No FEAR Act (03/16/04)
    • President signs NO FEAR Act into law (05/15/02)
    • Whitman will accept jury verdict in Coleman-Adebayo case (02/05/01)

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Following her successful suit against the agency, in which she was awarded $300,000 in compensatory damages, Coleman-Adebayo claimed to have been harassed and threatened with violence.

Coleman-Adebayo told cyberFEDS® her work does not require her physical presence in the office. Since she started working at home, her blood pressure, which had risen as a result of the harassment, has returned to normal, she said.

“There is escalation of retaliation [for EEO complaints] throughout the federal government,” she said. “[The EPA] wants to set an example for other federal government workers who speak out against injustice. I assume their plan is to entrap me.”

The EPA spokesperson declined to discuss the case in detail. “EPA does not comment on confidential personnel matters,” she said.

New legislation
In early 2006, the NO FEAR Coalition, an advocacy group that backed Coleman-Adebayo, plans to seek introduction of NO FEAR II, which would subject individuals guilty of harassment to sanctions and fines. The current NO FEAR Act requires only that the responsible agency reimburse the Treasury Department’s Judgment Fund, while individuals are protected under sovereign immunity. Agencies that claim financial hardship may postpone their Judgment Fund payments. The proposed legislation also might require agencies to reimburse 10 to 20 percent of their fines to the Judgment Fund immediately, set up a repayment schedule, and not allow agencies to apply for payment extensions, Coleman-Adebayo said.

Another group, the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition, also plans to push for legislation, which would:

    • Hold an individual responsible for harassment with civil and criminal liability.
    • Remove those exempted from NO FEAR, including agencies claiming financial hardship, government contractors, and cases the government says fall under “state secrecy privilege.”
    • Create a whistleblower retaliation accountability commission that would be more independent and have more enforcement than the Office of Special Counsel and the Merit Systems Protection Board.
    • Have Congress request annually or biennially a Government Accountability Office report on the number of retaliation cases and cost of retaliation for the government.
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