NBC News Baltimore affiliate WBAL reported on the class actions that KPWH continues to fight on behalf of African American males at the Headquarters of the Social Security Administration. Click here to view the report.
For more information about the SSA class actions, click here.
Contact Kator, Parks, Weiser & Harris for a free consultation to discuss your own potential legal matter.
Given reports about the current administration’s reported use of gag orders at agencies like EPA and the Department of Health and Human Services, it is more important than ever for federal employees to understand their free speech rights. Federal employees keep their free speech rights when they join the government and after they leave. These rights are protected under the Constitution, federal whistleblower laws, and other laws. Attempts to restrict these rights through gag orders can be illegal and unconstitutional.
First and foremost, federal employees retain their free speech rights under the First Amendment. The Supreme Court recognizes government employees’ right to speak on matters of public concern and, in some circumstances, even express political beliefs. Although the government can impose some restrictions, employees keep many of their core rights and others are protected by statute.
The Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA) and Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA) also protect the speech of government employees. These laws contain broad protections for a wide range of speech, including disclosures of violations of law, rules, or regulations; gross mismanagement; abuse of authority; and many others. Under the WPEA, there is almost always a method for employees to make disclosures to other employees, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, or even the public and media. Beyond the WPEA, there are other whistleblower protection laws related to specific topics like workplace safety, discrimination, and corruption.
Despite these protections, the government may place certain restrictions on employees’ speech. Agencies can limit disclosure of classified material; impose certain non-disclosure agreements; and may restrict some speech made in the course of their duties. The Supreme Court has also upheld similar restrictions.
Federal employees are protected from retaliation under the First Amendment and the WPEA. Employees may seek First Amendment protection directly in U.S. District Court, but must first go to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel to seek protection under the WPEA. Exercising free speech rights as a government employee can sometimes be difficult. Employees who are considering blowing the whistle or experiencing free speech retaliation may wish to seek guidance about what method of disclosure they should take and how to protect themselves. To discuss your possible whistleblower or retaliation case, contact Kator, Parks, Weiser & Harris, PLLC.
The EEOC certified a class action filed by Kator, Parks, Weiser & Harris, challenging the selection process for CBP Officer positions. The class action alleges that the physical fitness test for CBPO positions discriminates against female candidates.
Learn more about the CBP Officer class action by clicking here.
In recent years, federal employees have become more familiar with their rights under the Whistleblower Protection Act and their ability to file complaints with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel. Despite this heightened awareness of federal whistleblower protections, many federal employees are unfamiliar with whistleblower protections under other laws. These other provisions, like those under the Occupational Safety & Health Act and Consumer Financial Protection Act (Dodd-Frank), provide for additional protections, procedures, and remedies for federal employees that they may not have elsewhere.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has been given the authority to receive complaints under 22 different whistleblower retaliation provisions. Some of these statutes prohibit retaliation against federal employees who make disclosures under a given act. They also provide for administrative remedies that may be different than which can be obtained from the Office of Special Counsel.
The additional protections may duplicate administrative procedures and remedies for federal whistleblowers. Because of this, federal employees often have to choose whether to file a complaint under the Whistleblower Protection Act with the Office of Special Counsel, seek protection under one of the alternatives, or both. In addition, different deadlines apply to the different statutes, and can be quite confusing. For this reason, we encourage federal employees who may have whistleblower claims to consult with an experienced attorney as soon as possible. The following websites have additional information about whistleblower protection laws and applicable deadlines:
To discuss your possible whistleblower retaliation case, contact Kator, Parks, Weiser & Harris.
Students at colleges and universities have the right to live and study in environments free of sexual discrimination, harassment, and assault. Congress enacted Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 to prevent federally funded educational institutions from discriminating on the basis of sex. Title IX imposes a legal obligation on colleges and universities to prevent and respond to sexual assaults on campus. The United States Supreme Court has held that Title IX contains an implied right of action for a student who has been sexually assaulted by a faculty member or even another student. See Davis v. Monroe Cnty. Bd. Of Educ., 526 U.S. 633 (1999). A student who has suffered sexual assault on school property, including campus housing and dormitories, may have the right to hold the school liable for deliberate indifference to known acts of harassment in school programs and activities. As a result of Title IX, colleges and universities cannot turn a blind eye to allegations of sexual assault but must complete a full investigation into such allegations or face potential liability. Courts across the United States have held schools liable for creating atmospheres pervaded with sexual hostility that resulted in violence. If you are a college student and have been the unfortunate victim of rape, sexual harassment, or sexual assault then you may have a claim against the school for monetary damages. To find out more information about Title IX liability against educational institutions and whether you may have a claim against a college or university, contact an attorney at Kator, Parks, Weiser & Harris for a free consultation to discuss your legal options. Also, for more information as to how to initiate a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, see http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/howto.html.
KPWH Member Cathy Harris was featured in a report on ABC News program This Week with George Stephanopoulos, speaking about sexual harassment and sex assault on campus. Ms. Harris has focused on the issue of campus sexual harassment for many years. You can view the ABC News story by clicking here.
Kerrie Riggs and Cathy Harris of Kator, Parks, Weiser & Harris, PLLC proudly represented Dr. Patricia Kinne, a lesbian psychiatrist at the VA, in her complaints before the U.S. Office of Special Counsel and the EEOC. The case was recently settled with the help of the Office of Special Counsel, with Dr. Kinne receiving essentially full relief, including compensatory damages and attorneys fees. Dr. Kinne was discriminated against when she was threatened with removal after patients complained that she had disclosed she was a lesbian or referred to her wife. The patients cited Dr. Kinne’s sexual orientation as a basis for discontinuing their treatment with her. VA management at the Louisville VA Medical Center (VAMC) in Kentucky stated that Dr. Kinne’s disclosure of “personal information” was harmful to the doctor-patient relationship and warned she might be terminated. OSC investigated and found that while there were several hundred change-of-provider requests from patients against psychiatrists during the relevant time period, only two requests – the ones related to Dr. Kinne’s sexual orientation– were treated as potential corrective or disciplinary issues. In their OSC interviews, VA management officials were unable to distinguish their treatment of Dr. Kinne’s conduct from others who had received complaints, and provided inconsistent reasoning to support their actions. Dr. Kinne is a well-regarded psychiatrist with no other reported performance or conduct issues, and was complimented by the VA in 2013 for having relatively few patient complaints. The case settled just before an EEOC hearing on Dr. Kinne’s discrimination claims.
Cathy Harris was interviewed by ABC This Week about sexual assaults on college campuses. Ms. Harris has fought to bring attention to this issue, and to fight for victims’ rights, for decades.
Click here to see the ABC This Week segment on college sexual assaults.
If you have been the victim of a sexual assault at college or at work, click here to contact KPWH to discuss your legal options.