Whistleblower who Established Hostile Work Protections for Federal Employees Sues to Enforce Settlement

MSPB Whistleblower

Dr. Tommie (“Toni”) Savage’s federal employee whistleblower case has stretched on for nearly a decade and a half since she began to experience retaliation for blowing the whistle on systemic contracting fraud within the Army Corps of Engineers. Her case before the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) established the right for federal whistleblowers to pursue hostile work environment claims. According to a newly filed complaint, the government was supposed to pay an undisclosed sum to Dr. Savage and issue a formal letter expressing the government’s gratitude for her service and thanking her for her outstanding performance, but that letter never arrived.

“The delayed payments and refusal to issue a letter of gratitude represent one last dig at the whistleblower,” says Dr. Savage’s attorney, Michael Kohn, a founding partner at Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto.

Dr. Savage, who is African American, became a whistleblower shortly after being named to head the Army Corps of Engineers’ Huntsville, Alabama contracting office. When she entered her new position, she found rampant government contracting fraud occurring in plain sight. Dr. Savage raised concerns internally to the highest levels of the command, and nothing was done. She then went to the auditing department. All her allegations of contract fraud were confirmed by the auditing department. Subsequently, they were all corroborated by two high-level Army AR15-6 investigations. According to the final AR 15-6 reports. The reports blamed the failure to rectify Dr. Savage’s concerns on the commander and the region’s chief counsel. The reports indicate Dr. Savage deserves to be commended for exposing the wrongful conduct.

Dr. Savage alleged that her whistleblowing caused her workplace to turn hostile. She complained of numerous retaliatory actions (demotion, downgraded performance reviews, failure to issue awards, failure to issue interim evaluations, unrealistic deadlines, and refusal to staff her office, resulting in an overwhelming and unmanageable workload. She was also subjected to racially insensitive remarks). Eventually, Dr. Savage began to suffer debilitating panic attacks when she entered the workplace. She was charged with AWOL (absent without official leave) and permanently removed from federal service when she could no longer return to her work environment.

Dr. Savage filed a whistleblower retaliation complaint with the MSPB. After years of litigation, a landmark decision emerged when the Board adopted Dr. Savage’s argument that the protections under the Whistleblower Protection Act extend to hostile work environment claims. Federal whistleblowers can now raise a hostile work environment claim in defense of a removal action.

In 2017, Dr. Savage spoke on her experience blowing the whistle as a keynote speaker at National Whistleblower Day.

“The Army Corps has a history of taking retaliatory actions against contracting officers who attempt to expose contract fraud,” Kohn noted. Kohn previously represented another Army Corps of Engineers whistleblower, Bunnatine “Bunny” Greenhouse, who alleged contract fraud by the highest level Corps officials involved in awarding government contracts to Halliburton in the run-up to the Iraq war. The Army Corps settled that case for a reported $970,000.

Further Reading:

A Decade with No Relief: Whistleblower Dr. Toni Savage and the Personal Toll of the MSPB’s Lack of Quorum

MSPB Rules in Favor of Army Corps of Engineers Whistleblower in Landmark Case

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