Washington, DC — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency scientist who raised the alarm about dangers to First Responders and residents at the World Trade Center conflagration has been ordered returned to her job by a federal civil service court, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The decision strengthens key safeguards for all federal whistleblowers.
Dr. Cate Jenkins, a senior chemist with more than three decades of agency tenure, publicly charged that due to falsified EPA standards First Responders waded into dust so corrosive that it caused chemical burns deep within their respiratory system. After raising this issue to the EPA Inspector General, Congress and the FBI, Dr. Jenkins was isolated, harassed and ultimately removed from her position on December 30, 2010 by EPA based upon an un-witnessed claim that the soft-spoken, petite childhood polio survivor threatened her 6-foot male supervisor.
In a ruling dated May 4, 2012, the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) unanimously vacated Dr. Jenkins’ termination and ordered she be fully restored by May 25th and awarded back pay with interest. The decision faulted both the EPA and its own administrative judge for serious legal errors, including –
- Dr. Jenkins’ constitutional right to due process was violated because EPA fired her on an entirely new charge it had not previously even raised;
- The MSPB judge improperly prevented introduction of evidence for a whistleblower defense; and
- Dr. Jenkins was improperly blocked from conducting discovery on a number of issues, including the apparent high-level collusion to remove her.
“What happened to Dr. Jenkins was a crude railroading of a dedicated public servant. It is refreshing to see justice done by her,” stated PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein, who led Dr. Jenkins’ legal team. “Returning Dr. Jenkins to her position is just a start. We intend to hold responsible officials accountable and ask EPA to look very closely at this case with an eye toward preventing any more travesties like this.”
The holdings in the Jenkins case will help make sure that agency disciplinary decisions are fairly reached. Moreover, the ruling helps prevent agencies from hiding the ball to cover up political machinations.
“This ruling underlines some of the serious procedural defects that have historically made MSPB an assembly line for injustice against whistleblowers,” Dinerstein added, noting that it was same judge who decided against and then was reversed by the full MSPB board which ordered the restorations of U.S. Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers in 2011. “Hopefully, this ruling will make the initial decisions by MSPB judges more thoughtful and evenhanded.”
Meanwhile, EPA has not corrected the mistakes it made on 9/11. Last year, PEER on Dr. Jenkins’ behalf filed a formal rule-making petition demanding that EPA dramatically tighten its corrosivity standard so that responders would be alerted to use personal protection equipment to prevent lung respiratory damage. The petition would bring the U.S. into line with standards in force in the European Union, Canada and adopted by the United Nations since at least1970. EPA has yet to respond to the petition.
Read the MSPB decision
See Dr. Jenkins’ World Trade Center First Responders alarm
Look at routinely horrid treatment of EPA staff
View the daunting MSPB track record
Revisit the Teresa Chambers case