On October 31, the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) ordered the Department of the Army to initiate a corrective action in the landmark whistleblower case of Dr. Tommie (Toni) Savage. The MSPB reversed an earlier ruling by an administrative judge and found that the Army had constructively suspended Dr. Savage after she blew the whistle on systemic contracting fraud.
Dr. Savage’s whistleblower retaliation case stretches back for over a decade, due in part to the five years the MSPB lacked a quorum. Beginning in 2006, she blew the whistle on contracting fraud occurring within the Army Corps of Engineers’ Huntsville, Alabama Support Center where she served as the chief of contracting. Dr. Savage exposed a long-standing pattern and practice of illegal contracting activity that was ongoing in the Army Corps’ “Ranges Program,” the program responsible for designing and constructing military training facilities worldwide.
Dr. Savage alleges that she faced severe retaliation in response to blowing the whistle. She claims she was removed from her position, subjected to racist remarks, labeled disgruntled, given downgraded performance reviews, and subjected to slights and impossible deadlines. In tandem, these forms of retaliation created a workplace environment so toxic that she began to suffer panic attacks upon entering the workplace. Thereafter, the Army terminated Dr. Savage for being AWOL (absent without official leave).
The MSPB ruled that this AWOL charge could not justify Dr. Savage’s removal because her absence was due to a hostile work environment. The Board therefore determined that the Army had constructively suspended Dr. Savage and ordered interim relief in the form of back pay. The MSPB remanded the case back to the administrative judge to determine the full relief due to Dr. Savage.
“It took remarkable courage to confront the Corps’ command structure with validated allegations of massive contracting fraud,” said Dr. Savage’s attorney, Michael Kohn of Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto. “The Army owes Toni Savage a big apology after it chose on the one hand to reward the fraudster and with the other destroy Dr. Savage’s career, dignity and psychological well-being.”
Back in 2015, the MSPB issued a landmark decision in Dr. Savage’s case ruling that the Whistleblower Protection Act covers employees who face a hostile work environment in retaliation for blowing the whistle.
On March 1, 2022, the Senate voted to confirm two nominees to the Board, Raymond Limon and Tristan Leavitt, restoring a quorum and allowing the MSPB to regain functionality for the first time in over five years. In the first three months with a quorum, the MSPB issued 15 precedential and 173 nonprecedential decisions. A number of the precedential decisions concerned whistleblower cases and set noteworthy precedents on whistleblower retaliation issues.