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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Workplace Retaliation: A Classic Weapon in the Rove Arsenal

Bogus criminal prosecutions that target political opponents are perhaps the best known dirty trick of the Republican Party in the Age of Karl Rove.

But workplace retaliation is rapidly moving up the charts of favored nasty GOP tactics. And its latest target appears to be Tamarah T. Grimes, a legal aide in Montgomery, Alabama, who complained about sexual harassment and discrimination she experienced while working on the Don Siegelman prosecution.

As someone who lost his job at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) in apparent retaliation for writing truthfully about corruption in Alabama courts, I can identify with Grimes' experiences. And thanks to a Friday story by Adam Nossiter of The New York Times, we know much more about events that led Grimes to blow the whistle on alleged misconduct by prosecutors and jurors in the Siegelman case.

We will go into more detail about Grimes' experiences in future posts, but here is a summary of the retaliatory action she apparently faced as a result of speaking up about alleged wrongdoing:

* In July 2007, Grimes filed an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaint against the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Middle District of Alabama (MDAL). That office, led by U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, oversaw the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman and codefendant Richard Scrushy, former CEO of HealthSouth;

* Grimes alleged that she had been subjected to demeaning remarks of a sexually offensive and discriminatory nature during her work on the Siegelman case;

* The parties engaged in a mediation in November 2007, with Canary and First Assistant U.S. Attorney Patricia Watson attending from MDAL. Frederick Menner, representing the Executive Office for United States Attorneys, also participated. The mediator was Sharon Stokes, deputy chief of the civil division in the Northern District of Georgia;

* Stokes stated that, during the course of the mediation, Grimes said she tape recorded offensive remarks made by members of the Siegelman prosecution team.

* Upon hearing that audiotapes existed, Canary, Watson, and Menner asked to hear them, according to Stokes. Grimes allegedly said the tapes were in the possession of her attorney, J. Scott Boudreaux of Birmingham;

*When Stokes informed Canary, Watson, and Menner that Grimes would not turn over the tapes, they expressed concern that she might have tape recorded privileged or sensitive law-enforcement information in violation of federal law;

* Menner then contacted his supervisor, Andrew Niedrick, about a possible investigation of Grimes. Menner even sent Niedrick an e-mail with suggested language for referral to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG). Niedrick proceeded to send the information to OIG for a criminal investigation of Grimes.

In case you are trying to pick your jaw up off the floor, let me summarize in one sentence what happened to Tamarah T. Grimes:

She filed an EEO complaint, stating that she had been the victim of harassment and discrimination, and wound up becoming the target of a criminal investigation because of it.

You heard that right, folks: Blow the whistle on wrongdoing in the Bush Justice Department and get rewarded by becoming the target of a criminal investigation.

Life's great in Karl Rove's America, ain't it?

And get this: Grimes says she never told the mediator that she had tape recorded MDAL employees and did not have any such audiotapes. According to Grimes, she told the mediator that she had written recordings, not tape recordings, of what had transpired. And Boudreaux stated that he had never received any tape recordings from Grimes.

You can read the Justice Department report on Grimes allegations here (PDF).

So what really happened here? Did the mediator, Stokes, and Grimes have a genuine misunderstanding? Or did Stokes join forces with Canary & Co. to turn the tables in a classic case of "blaming the victim?"

Do Stokes and Menner have allegiances to "loyal Bushies" in the Justice Department? Were they more interested in silencing Grimes, and protecting Canary, than in seeking justice?

Speaking of Menner, what was his role in all of this? Was he supposed to be an objective observer? If so, he clearly was not. The report on the Grimes case shows that Menner sided with Canary and Watson in stating that they did not believe Grimes' allegations. Why would Menner say that if he was open-minded about the issue and had no firsthand knowledge of what took place?

If Menner participated mainly as a supporter for Canary and Watson, why was he allowed to refer Grimes for criminal investigation? Did Menner violate ethical guidelines in taking this step against a government whistleblower?

In fact, why was Menner even at the mediation if he was only going to be a "water boy" for Canary and Watson?

Grimes' story is familiar here at Legal Schnauzer--so much so that it's eery.

In fact, reading the Grimes documents is like reliving my last few months of working at UAB, when people with connections to the Bush Justice Department clearly were trying to get me fired--and succeeded on May 19, 2008.

On April 15, 2008, I complained to my supervisor, Pam Powell, that she had been harassing and discriminating against me based on age. She responded by claiming I had acted in a "threatening" and "belligerent" manner toward her and gave me a written warning.

Roughly a week later, I went to Powell's superior (Dale Turnbough) and complained about harassing and discriminatory treatment--and the unwarranted written warning. I also filed a formal grievance against Powell with UAB Human Resources.

Turnbough assured me that she would speak to Powell and take care of the matter. She also assured me, after I brought up the subject, that my blog was not a problem.

UAB policy states that an employee is to use the grievance process without fear of reprisal or retaliation.

But what really happened? On May 7, I was placed on administrative leave. And on May 19, I was fired.

So I complained to both my supervisor and her supervisor about discrimination and harassment--and wound up getting fired for it. My subsequent research indicates people with connections to the Bush Justice Department were behind my termination.

That's a story, I feel certain, that Tamarah Grimes can identify with.

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