Date: April 8, 2018

Law360 interviewed TELG principal Nicholas Woodfield about reports that several federal employees were punished after questioning expenditures by Scott Pruitt, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Nick said that the employees appear to have a strong basis for claiming illegal whistleblower retaliation, based on media coverage.

"As dysfunctional as the federal government can be, [Pruitt] is taking it to a new level. Having done this for 20 years, I have not seen someone with this dramatic a track record in one year.”

Nicholas Woodfield

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Personnel Moves May Expose Pruitt To Whistleblower Claims

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s deregulatory push has spawned a predictable flurry of lawsuits from green groups, but Pruitt may face legal battles on a different and perhaps unexpected front if agency workers who reportedly took flack after raising concerns about his actions decide to file whistleblower claims.

The New York Times last week said that five top advisers and security personnel who questioned some of Pruitt’s expenditures, travel habits and security-related moves — such as using a vehicle’s emergency lights and sirens to go to dinner — were either demoted to jobs with less responsibility, transferred to jobs further out of Pruitt’s orbit, placed on administrative leave without pay, asked to resign, or investigated.

The EPA defended the actions that were questioned and disputed there was any link between challenges to those actions and employment changes, according to the Times. The agency did not respond to a request for comment from Law360.

The Times report raised questions about whether those employees, or possibly others not named in the story and placed elsewhere in the agency but who’ve faced similar treatment, could have claims under the Whistleblower Protection Act, said Nicholas Woodfield, a principal at The Employment Law Group PC and the firm’s general counsel.

The WPA says an agency can’t materially change employees’ working conditions — by demoting them, firing them or transferring them to an inferior position, for example — if they engage in protected activity, he said.

“It looks like that’s what’s going on here,” Woodfield said. “I would take these cases, based on what I’ve seen. This is so overt. I think these are great cases.”

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