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EPA supervisor requests whistle-blower status |
Wednesday, December 08, 1999
By Randall Edwards
An Ohio Environmental Protection Agency supervisor is the second agency employee to seek whistle-blower protection in the wake of an investigation into pollution problems in Marion, Ohio.
Bruce Dunlavy said he will file a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration today. He is seeking protection as a whistle-blower because he is being punished for testifying in a federal case involving an EPA employee who sought whistle-blower protection last year, he said.
The federal whistle-blower law protects government employees from retaliation when they speak out about possible violations of environmental laws.
Dunlavy said his bosses at the EPA Northwest District office have retaliated against him because he made statements during hearings in a case filed by EPA investigator Paul Jayko.
Dunlavy's attorney, Dennis Muchnicki, said yesterday that Dunlavy wants the retaliation to stop.
Carol Hester, an EPA spokeswoman, said yesterday that Dunlavy was not being punished for his testimony but was being asked to improve his communication with superiors and staff members.
Dunlavy was Jayko's supervisor in June 1998, when Jayko was reassigned to other duties a year into the investigation of possible contamination at the campus of River Valley schools in Marion County.
The investigation began because state health officials reported a higher-than-expected level of leukemia among River Valley graduates.
The high school and middle school were built on the site of a World War II vehicle depot, and part of the school grounds was used as a dump. Extensive contamination has since been discovered beneath the surface soil there.
Jayko said he was removed from his position because he raised questions about whether the River Valley investigation was thorough enough. After he filed for whistle-blower protection, the EPA accused him of drinking alcohol on the job and padding his expense account.
Jayko was suspended for 10 days, but an OSHA hearing officer ordered the agency to reimburse Jayko for lost wages and to reinstate him as the lead investigator in Marion.
The EPA appealed to a federal administrative-law judge, and during hearings in July, Dunlavy testified that Jayko was removed from his job because top management in the district office thought Jayko was "a pipeline for information to the media that might be embarrassing to the agency.''
Dunlavy also testified that EPA management, including district chief Edward Hammett and assistant chief Jeff Steers, planned a staff reorganization to provide an excuse to get Jayko off the Marion investigation. Jayko's case is pending.
In his complaint, Dunlavy says that in early November he was summoned to a meeting with Hammett, Steers and Cindy Haffner, chief of the Division of Emergency and Remedial Response.
The three managers gave Dunlavy a memo that detailed several new procedures for him to follow. According to the memo, Dunlavy is to provide Hammett with copies of all communication with staff members, agendas and minutes of staff meetings and to produce other weekly and monthly reports.
"There is no other manager who is subjected to this maze of requirements,'' said Muchnicki, who also represents Jayko. "It reduces him to nothing more than a paper shuffler.''
Muchnicki said that Dunlavy thinks the complicated work requirements are "just the first shoe.''
"Anyone who reads that memo knows what it is. They're trying to build a paper trail, and if he messes up on anything, they'll come after him,'' Muchnicki said.
Dunlavy is being asked to improve communication, Hester said.
"We're asking a manager to carry out the functions that we would expect any manager to carry out,'' she said. "Most managers don't need to be told what those expectations are, but in this case, it needed to be clarified.
"We fail to see how there is any possible connection to any whistle-blower law.''
Dunlavy's testimony, which is included in the complaint as an exhibit, includes comments about morale at the EPA, which Dunlavy called "the lowest it's ever been.''
Dunlavy also testified that Hammett and Steers leave middle- level managers "out of the loop'' and give employees directions without following chain of command.
Hester said that she is not aware of morale problems but that the fallout from the Marion investigation has taken its toll on the agency.
"It's been a disruption to the agency,'' she said. "It's taken our focus away from the work that we should be doing.''
Copyright © 1999, The Columbus Dispatch