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OSC Investigations Lead to Settlements in Two Whistleblower Cases

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Two Office of Special Counsel investigations into whistleblower cases recently resulted in settlements.  In October 2015, the OSC reported that the Army settled a claim filed by Teresa Gilbert.  The next month, the OSC announced that the Department of Veterans Affairs settled claims brought by David Tharp.

Gilbert worked as a civilian infection control analyst at the Womack Army Medical Center in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.  In January 2014, she reported concerns to the Joint Commission about infection control problems at the Medical Center.  During the Commission’s investigation, Gilbert’s supervisors prevented her from participating in the investigation. After its investigation, the Commission found that the hospital was not following required protocols.  Shortly thereafter, in April 2014, the Army began an internal investigation based on the Commission’s findings.  Gilbert provided information to the Army investigators.  As a result of both investigations, various senior employees at the hospital were disciplined.

Shortly after the Army issued its disciplinary rulings, Gilbert’s supervisor reduced her hours by half.  Gilbert still continued to provide information to the investigators.  In response, the hospital again retaliated against Gilbert.  In late April 2014, Gilbert was charged as AWOL, purportedly because she had not requested leave for the hours that were cut from her schedule.  In July 2014, Gilbert tried to explain the AWOL situation to a general.  In response, the general issued her a letter of reprimand for misconduct.  In October 2014, the Army issued Gilbert a notice of proposed removal.

After its investigation, the OSC found that there was no basis for the proposed removal.  As a result of the OSC’s involvement, the Army and Gilbert settled her claims for a monetary payment and the removal of negative information from her personnel file.

In the second case, David Tharp joined the VA in July 2009 as a psychologist in Waco, Texas dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TRI).  Shortly after joining the VA, Tharp reported alleged fraud and misuse of funds related to research on PTSD and TBI.  Tharp alleged that as a result of his reports, his manager prevented him from earning the same pay as others in equivalent positions and subjected Tharp to a hostile work environment by refusing to give Tharp performance evaluations and bonuses that he deserved.

In September 2010, Tharp reported the fraud and hostile work environment to the VA Inspector General (IG).  In October 2010, while deployed on active duty to Iraq, Tharp provided testimony to the IG as part of its investigation into the VA’s practices.  When Tharp returned to Texas in July 2011, his manager at the VA forced him into a different position unrelated to psychology.

In February 2012, the IG released its report, finding fraud at the VA and that Tharp’s manager had treated him unfairly.  After this report, Tharp’s manager retired.  As a result of the OSC’s involvement, the VA and Tharp settled his claims for compensatory damages, adjustment in his pay level, and other undisclosed actions.  Tharp’s attorney credited the OSC for the settlement, stating that Tharp “would be gone if it weren’t for the OSC.  This agency is making a difference for whistleblowers and the public they serve.”

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