WASHINGTON, March 9, 2017 — A Memphis VA Medical center employee/whistleblower and his attorney are crying foul about a proposed settlement by the VA regarding the employee’s suspension.
“It’s coercion,” said Joree Brownlow, the attorney for Sean Higgins, the Memphis VA Medical Center whistleblower who is facing a fourteen-day suspension for swearing at a superior.
The Memphis VA proposed waiving the suspension if Higgins agreed not to sue or take his case to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) and other agencies. Stated the proposed settlement:
“Should the 14 day suspension without pay be imposed, Mr. Higgins hereby waives any and all rights to file an MSPB appeal, EEO (Equal Employment Opportunity) complaint grievance or other action concerning the charge and/or 14 day suspension.”
As CDN recently reported, Higgins is facing a fourteen-day suspension because he swore to a superior.
“The charge of disrespectful toward a superior is sustained,” the proposed settlement further stated. Attorney Brownlow told CDN that Higgins’ due process was not followed in determining this action, noting the proper process is to have a formal finding of fact, after which an Administrative Investigative Board (AIB) should be convened. Prior to a proposed punishment being determined in such a case, Brownlow further told CDN, those two steps are supposed to be taken.
Brownlow said the new Memphis VA medical director, James Belmont, refused to meet with her regarding Higgins’ case.
Belmont is the fourth recent medical director at the Memphis VA facility. As in the case of the Altoona VA Medical Center, both hospitals have appointed numerous temporary medical directors without being able to find a permanent replacement.
Higgins has been a thorn in the side of the Memphis VA in the decade he’s been employed there. He’s been terminated twice only to receive his job back after the MSPB ruled the termination was improper.
Higgins has complained to the VA Office of Inspector General, the Office of Special Counsel, House Veteran Affairs Committee, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) about numerous issues involving the hospital.
Because of this, Brownlow believes the latest action by the Memphis VA is a matter of whistleblower retaliation and plans to involve the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC), which investigates whistleblower issues in the government.
While OSC investigates all levels of the Federal government, the VA has an especially significant problem with whistleblower retaliation. A recent report found that nearly half of all government complaints to the OSC come from the VA.
“This is a sad attempt at bullying in the workplace,” Higgins said in a text message, further stating
“The continued harassment, retaliation violates the enhanced whistleblower act. When will veterans be treated with the honor and respect that one deserves from services to this nation? At the Memphis VA its current management is the cancer that is robbing veterans of their and continuing to draining the morale from its workforce.”
In addition to currently serving as a Veterans Administration employee, Higgins is a retired U.S. Air Force veteran who saw action in Grenada.