Bookmark and Share

For Immediate Release: Jun 24, 2015
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

NEW TOP CHEMICAL SAFETY BOARD LAWYER SUING HIS OWN AGENCY

Federal Lawsuit Seeking $300,000 + May Receive Sudden Sweetheart Settlement


Washington, DC — In a bizarre turn of events, the lawyer just named acting General Counsel of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) is simultaneously suing the agency for hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). This follows the abrupt placement of the General Counsel and Managing Director on indefinite administrative leave, one of several controversial moves this past week at the CSB.

Raymond Porfiri is a Deputy General Counsel and has worked at CSB for 16 years. On June 12th, CSB Board Member Richard Engler asserted that he had taken over “Interim Executive and Administrative Authority” for the agency. In his first action, Engler suspended General Counsel Richard Loeb and Managing Director Daniel Horowitz from duty until an internal investigation of “possible misconduct” could be completed. On June 18th, Engler elevated Porfiri on an interim basis to fill Loeb’s position “with direct reports to me,” thus making Porfiri the top lawyer at CSB and the head of its legal department.

Back in October 2014, Porfiri filed a federal lawsuit against CSB charging it with various incidents of discrimination and failure to accommodate injuries he sustained in an April 2011 accident pruning a tree at his residence. The suit has several “prayers for relief” including one demanding a $300,000 payment from the CSB. As a result of this confluence of circumstances –

• Porfiri is now directly supervising the CSB attorney charged with assisting the Justice Department in defending against his lawsuit;

• The suit currently faces a government motion to dismiss but Porfiri is pressing for settlement now, before the motion is decided. If the motion to dismiss is granted, the settlement value of the suit would be greatly decreased, if not completely negated; and

• Engler now claims to have the authority to unilaterally settle Porfiri’s lawsuit and to order payment without any review either inside or outside the CSB, including other Board members.

“What was Rick Engler thinking in making someone who is suing the agency his top lawyer?” asked PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “Presumably Engler knew about the suit and he should explain what arrangement he made or plans to make to remove this curious and questionable impediment.”

At the same time, the CSB is facing growing funding shortfalls and diversion of resources. Last week the U.S. Senate moved to reduce the CSB budget by $300,000 from current levels, an amount more than $1,500,000 below what the President requested (the current CSB budget is $11 million). Meanwhile, it continues to pay the salaries of its executive staff to have them sit at home. In addition, Engler reportedly has retained a private law firm under a contract PEER is seeking through the Freedom of Information Act.

“A significant portion of funds are being wasted or used in a way that actually hurts the ability of the Chemical Safety Board to fulfill its mission,” added Ruch, noting that the agency had been criticized for a backlog in its investigations into the causes of explosions and releases from refineries, factories and other fixed facilities. “The last thing this small agency needs is more disruption. Its entire staff should be allowed to go back to work, now.”

###

See the Porfiri lawsuit

Look at recent coup d’état at CSB

Read the after-the–fact Engler takeover declaration