Where Facts And Controversy In The News Come Together In Truth

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Huntington’s Chief ALJ Named in Federal Lawsuit Alleging Racial Discrimination and Whistleblower Retaliation

New Allegations And Information Surfacing in Huntington, WV Social Security Office Scandal by Jack Swint

“Before Judge Al Tinsley retired in 2010, Chief Judge Charles Andrus brokered contract negotiations between Tinsley and Attorney Eric Conn for a sweetheart job. The contract reportedly details a three-year lucrative plan for $250,000 that includes Conn having the right to use Tinsley’s name - picture and former ALJ Judge Credentials to advertise for new clients. And, Tinsley is not required to work on a full- time basis or come into the office on any set schedule.”

Another Bombshell In The Making?

Since our first story (linked below) in December 2010 exposing possible collusion between Attorney Eric C. Conn and Judge David Daugherty in the Huntington Social Security Appeals Office, additional information has surfaced, including federal lawsuits filed by retired ALJ Al Tinsley alleging racial, age discrimination and retaliation from Chief Judge Charles Andrus and other superiors for "fraud and conspiracy" problems inside the Huntington office that Tinsley went to the OIG about.

Before leaving SSA in 2010, Al Tinsley filed suit claiming that his superiors retaliated against him when he blew the whistle and reported Daugherty to higher ups, including the Inspector General’s Office in 2007-2008. And that he was racially and age discriminated against because he was once suspended for 30 days for the exact same infractions (time and attendance) that ALJ Daugherty had also committed but wasn’t reprimanded. Court documents support Tinsley insomuch as Chief Administrative Judge Andrus admitted on record that he was aware that Daugherty had falsified his time and attendance forms.

US District Court - Southern District Of WV, Huntington:

1) Algernon W. Tinsley - VS. - Michael J. Astrue. Docket Number 3:09-CV 600  (active)

2) Algernon W. Tinsley - VS. - Michael J. Astrue Docket Number 3:10-CV-1184 (active)

According to the federal court record…“Plaintiff, (Tinsley) acting pro se, filed a Complaint in this Court alleging he was unlawfully discriminated against in his employment because of race - age and retaliation for disclosure of fraud and conspiracy.” Both suits are filed under 42:2000(e) Job Discrimination. The court has dismissed the discrimination claims but allowed the Whistle-blower parts to move forward.
Why Did Chief Judge Andrus Broker A Job Between Eric Conn And  Al Tinsley?

What possible motive or benefit would there be for Chief ALJ Charlie Andrus to be the middle man for negotiations between Tinsley and Attorney Eric C Conn? Especially taking into account that Tinsley had lawsuit(s) pending alleging Andrus and higher ups retaliated against him for going to the IG, and that they also discriminated against him both racially and because of his age. (Tinsley was still an ALJ during this time)

Here is one possibility; according to our source who was reportedly in the loop:
“Judge Tinsley had not sought out Eric Conn for a job, nor had Conn sought him out. Andrus approached Tinsley with this job offer to not only get Tinsley out of the office, but also in hopes that he (Tinsley) would also dismiss his pending lawsuit.” In the end, Tinsley refused to drop his complaint and Andrus agreed that he did not have to. The trio negotiated the contract deal that reportedly pays Tinsley $250,000 over three years. Tinsley doesn’t have to keep normal hours or be physically there unless needed. And in return, he gives Conn the right to use Tinsley’s name, picture and his former credentials as an ALJ Judge in advertisements including billboards, radio, TV, etc.

Al Tinsley stated in a recent telephone interview that he was “forced into retirement” by Andrus. And that he firmly believed it was because of his complaints to the Inspector General and law suits in federal court. He said that during the initial job offer discussions, he (Tinsley) couldn’t talk directly with attorney Conn about the position, he had to go through Andrus. "That was very strange."

Tinsley did say that during this same time period, Eric Conn personally warned him that Andrus and higher ups were “going to take action against me, and fabricate evidence if they needed to.” He then said… “Eric said to retire.” Tinsley feels that Andrus should be accountable for the overall problems in the Huntington office because he knew about them and did nothing. Andrus is also the person who instigated and participated in the retaliation against him (outlined in his lawsuit) because he complained to the OIG.

When asked what he knew of the pending investigation, it is his understanding from people he had spoken to in the IG office, that this is a criminal investigation and he understood they (IG) have found documents that link Daugherty and Conn to the allegations.

Sources also report that Judge Dan Kemper filed a complaint to his union against Daugherty for numerous incidents including one alleging Daugherty forged Kemper’s name to documents. Kemper is said to have included several years’ worth of statistics in his complaint that show the unusually high approval ratios of Daugherty and the questionable caseload between Daugherty and Eric Conn.

How early did Kemper know of Daugherty’s manipulating case files? Records we obtained show that in October 2004, Kemper complained directly to Andrus that Daugherty had taken a case file off the master docket in 2003 that he (Kemper) had already made decisions on. Daugherty overrode the decision and issued a fully favorable one in 2004 and dated it back to the onset date.

Details Are Becoming Clearer How Daugherty Could Manipulate The System

According to former Master Docket Clerk Jennifer Griffith, her superiors knew since at least 2005 that Judge Daugherty was circumventing the system and assigning himself to disability cases that were being represented by Attorney Eric Conn. “He even re-assigned himself to cases that had been assigned to other Judges in rotation.” In fact, when the new electronic system came online, she helped train Daugherty and other staff, so she knew he was able to at least maneuver his way into the master docket and could assign cases to himself.

But, a red-flag surfaced each time Daugherty made changes because he only knew enough to switch the docket, not finish the process. “He learned enough about the new system to change the case to himself, but not to complete the necessary steps needed to close the file out.” This created a red-flag each time that alerted her superiors which made it appear she was not doing her job properly.

When asked by this author how confident she was that Daugherty intentionally assigned himself to Eric Conn’s cases? … “With 100% certainty, Judge Daugherty was intentionally assigning himself to cases belonging to Eric Conn. He learned the new electronic system and knew how to change the docket.”

Griffith says she began making verbal complaints to her superiors about the connection between Daugherty and Conn in 2005. When that fell on deaf ears, she filed grievances. She even went to her Union Steward, Sara Carver and complained. Carver wrote at least one e-mail in Griffith’s behalf to Hearing Office Director, Gregg Hall on August 29th, 2007, outlining her concerns that Daugherty would “assign himself Eric Conn cases outside of what is supposed to be done on rotational bases.”

She went on to write… “She brought it to your attention several times that he goes into CPMS and not only assigns himself cases, but also removes cases from other ALJ’s to his own initials. Carver concludes this e-mail by saying… “Jennifer has brought this to your attention so many times I have lost count.”

What was the outcome of Griffiths written complaints? Her performance reviews went from receiving awards for hard work to negative comments and no further raises in pay. She did not give up at the office level. “I also filed complaints in 2006 with Regional Judges Jasper J. Bede and Frank A. Cristaudo, but no one did anything.” Finally, she contacted US Congressman Nick Rahall who also “did nothing.”

According to Griffith, complaints were also made by other employees to the Inspector General’s Office in 2006. According to one current office staff member, “they would come down, look around and nothing would be done. This time, after the recent news media wrote about the problems, the IG got really serious and interviewed everyone in the office and even took staff computers.” This inside source also said that management seems really nervous and scared. “And they should be.”

Griffith summed it up…“It’s all about the numbers. The more cases that can be decided, the better the office looks on paper and some upper management make their bonuses. Daugherty was able to hear more cases than any other judge which brought the numbers inline with goals for their bonuses.” She left the Appeals Office in 2007 after work related health concerns forced her to resign. Griffith admits she had to leave a great job and great co-workers, but it came down to the stress of the problems effecting her health, marriage and kids.
In Closing…

Current and former office staff members feel it is important for the public to know that these problems did not just start overnight. And that, just as many employees have complained as were covering it all up. Since at least 2005, complaints have been filed by both office staff and judges that Daugherty was circumventing the system.

They say Daugherty was patted on the back because he was able to process and close out claims quickly. It wasn’t about the disabled person applying for and needing benefits, it is about the statistics and the monthly goals that have bonus money tied to them for upper management.

One of the people complaining, and retaliated against for doing so, is former Judge Al Tinsley. His complaints to the IG and federal lawsuits show he went to his superiors, instead of them dealing with the problems, he was discriminated and retaliated against for doing so. And in the end, he was forced to retire.

Then there is the question that needs to be asked and answered about why Chief Judge Charles Andrus would get directly involved in negotiating a job offer between Tinsley and Eric Conn? Sources say it was to get Tinsley out of the office and hopefully entice and or persuade him to drop any and all civil matters pending that he had filed involving Andrus and SSA.

Reportedly, the Inspector General is conducting a thorough investigation into the Huntington office. Senator Hatch says he, too, will be conducting a search for the answers as to what is going on in Huntington’s SSA Office.

It should be noted that the current investigation inside the alleged problems within the Huntington SSA office are not a reflection of any other office and or region.

End of Story…

Jack Swint - Publisher
West Virginia News 2011
Twitter: @WVNewsService 
LinkedIn: Jack Swint



obshellums said...

Actually there are problems at other ODAR offices. The San Diego office was the worst managed federal workplace I've known. Lost files on a daily basis, staff coming and going and no amount of staff helps productivity and real service to the public if management is focused on personality and perks, social events, and covering up its failures rather than addressing them. ODAR needs oversight; too "special" and OIG seemed to give them a pass. Many claimants never get a hearing, notices, absence of leads, HR specialists with no knowledge of programs acting as managers. What a waste and loss at very high cost.

obshellums said...

ODAR is provided tools, luxurious offices and support staff who are legal assistants, leads and paralegals. Management though is very provincial, doesn't encourage staff to really learn about programs, to be serious about maintaining contact with claimants throughout the hearing process in their own city. Handling travel dockets as carelessly is really a loss to claimants. Too much effort to appear refined rather than to be available to the public is another ODAR trait. Staff have little to no contact with claimants and seem to lose sight of who they supposedly serve.

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