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Merit Systems Protection Board Vice-Chairman Anne Wagner named in discrimination suit

Anne Wagner, who was appointed Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) Vice-Chairman by President Obama in 2009, has been named in a workplace discrimination lawsuit now pending in federal district court in Washington, D.C.

The suit, Williams v. Dodaro, (Civil Action No. 1:07-CV-1452), brought by a senior trial attorney in the Government Accountability Office, alleges “age, race, and sex discrimination, retaliation, and a hostile and abusive work environment.” The defendant is Gene Dodaro, the U.S. Comptroller General and head of the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Wagner was, for a time, Williams’ direct supervisor as General Counsel of the Personnel Appeals Board at the GAO.

In August, the court issued an opinion granting in part and denying in part a motion for summary judgment, thus paving the way for settlement or trial. In a 2008 memorandum opinion by the court, Wagner is alleged to have “‘physically confront[ed] and loudly threaten[ed]‘ Williams ‘in her office on June 30, 2006,’ . . . ‘regularly disparaged’ Williams’s job performance during discussions with her co-workers and ‘routinely questioned’ those co-workers concerning Williams’s whereabouts during work days.’”

A copy of the August 2011 summary judgment opinion is available here (the 2008 summary judgment opinion is available here).

The consequences of this litigation may not be limited to this trial, as Wagner’s actions have caught the attention of some in the public interest community. Members of the Coalition for Change, Inc. (C4C),”an advocacy support group for present and former federal employees injured due to workplace discrimination,” are calling for the U.S. Office of Government Ethics to conduct an investigation. In a letter dated October 20, 2011, C4C states that ”Ms. Wagner’s continued service on the [MSPB] is troubling and problematic in light of serious allegations against her in Williams v. Dodaro and the fact that a federal judge has denied the Government’s motion for Summary Judgment.”

The letter further states that

C4C believes Ms. Wagner’s continued presence as Vice-Chairman of the MSPB constitutes a conflict of interest and raises a serious concern as to whether she can fairly and without prejudice adjudicate cases of discrimination that may come before the Board. More importantly, the C4C seeks an investigation as to whether Ms. Wagner was forthcoming and/or misled the White House and the Congress regarding her role in the case known as Diane R. Williams v. Gene Dodaro, Comptroller General of the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

It’s important to mention that these are only allegations, the truth of which have yet to be proven or disproven in a court of law. But a salient point is that, unlike the whistleblowers over whom Ms. Wagner presides, she will be able to face a jury of her peers and an independent, tenured judge. In other words, Ms. Wagner will enjoy a quality of due process that is far too often denied to federal employees. Given the state of the law today, too many whistleblowers are not able to rebut allegations lodged against them by agencies with unlimited resources and a hostile administrative system.

Regardless of the outcome, here’s hoping Ms. Wagner emerges from this experience with a reinvigorated appreciation for the bedrock principle of the jury trial.


Cross-posted at MSPB Watch.

Update: The jury trial has been scheduled for February 13, 2012.

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