KKC Celebrates International Women’s Day
On this International Women’s Day, Kohn, Kohn, & Colapinto looks to honor the courageous women who have reported fraud and corruption. Our whistleblowers have put their livelihoods on the line to uphold democracy and hold institutions accountable.
Anti-Discrimination in the Workplace
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects employees from discrimination in the workplace based on race, color, sex, religion, and national origin. The Act covers discrimination in hiring and firing decisions, as well as compensation and terms of employment. Title VII further prohibits retaliation against employees bringing claims under the Civil Rights Act, thereby providing critical protection for whistleblowers of workplace discrimination. In 1972, Title VII’s coverage was expanded to include certain categories of federal employees, and in 1977, § 42 USC 1981 was added to the statute to include recovery of compensatory and punitive damages in cases where Title VII was violated.
Jane Turner, former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Special Agent, once led efforts to investigate child abuse in the North Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota. While serving in this role, Turner learned that the FBI misclassified the rape of a Native American toddler as a “motor vehicle accident” following his treatment in a local hospital. The toddler was returned to his abuser. After disclosing this information, Turner was removed from her investigative position in Minot to a desk job in Minneapolis.
The FBI cited poor performance as the cause for this demotion, but anyone who worked with Turner knew that she was praised for her efforts as an agent up until this report. In September 2005, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit unanimously held that Turner provided enough facts to bring this case to a jury. Represented by whistleblower attorney Stephen Kohn, the jury ruled in favor of Turner in her retaliation case and awarded her $1.5 million, the maximum compensation permitted under Title VII, in February 2007.
Turner once again faced backlash for reporting theft by federal officials at the 9/11 World Trade Center crime scene. She disclosed this information to the Department of Justice under the Whistleblower Protection Act, and made history when she won yet another retaliation case. As a result, Turner’s administrative leave was removed, and she retired from the FBI after 25 years of service.
“When I had to blow the whistle it was very very difficult,” Turner said in her remarks at the 2017 National Whistleblower Day event. “I was lucky I had my daughter and I was lucky I had Stephen Kohn in my life…Stephen Kohn dragged me across the finish line…he stayed with me, he kept me going.”
Dr. Duane Bonds
In 1990, Dr. Duane Bonds was employed as a medical officer at the National Institutes of Health’s Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI). As a medical officer, she oversaw human trials of individuals with sickle cell disease and epidemiologic studies.
In her capacity as a medical officer, Dr. Bonds uncovered that African American infants were being used in clinical trials without informed consent. Specifically, the infants’ blood was used for unauthorized cloning. Immediately, Dr. Bonds demanded the destruction of the trial. However, her supervisor, Dr. Charles Peterson, overruled her decision. Dr. Bonds then contacted NHLBI’s Director, who initially agreed with Dr. Bonds but never took action.
The lack of action led Dr. Bonds to blow the whistle under the Whistleblower Protection Act and contact the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) to inform them that human DNA was being unlawfully kept and used for clinical trials, and report Dr. Peterson to be involved in fraud, abuse, and gross waste. As an act of retaliation, Dr. Bonds was terminated from her position as a medical officer. Michael Kohn, a whistleblower attorney at Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto, represented Dr. Bonds for the alleged discrimination and retaliation violation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act.
In 2011, Bonds v. Leavitt, 629 F.3d 369, 384 (4th Cir. 2011) was ruled in favor of Bonds:
“This decision expands the rights of some federal workers to pursue their whistleblower claims in federal district courts around the country,” Kohn said. “Unfortunately, since Congress continues to treat federal employees as second-class citizens this right is only available to federal employees who can bring a race, sex, age, national origin or religion claim in conjunction with a whistleblower claim. Otherwise, a federal employee has no right to a federal court hearing.”
Linda Tripp transferred to the Pentagon’s public affairs office in 1994 following her time working under the George H.W. Bush presidential administration. Years later, she befriended Monica Lewinsky, a 23-year-old White House intern. As Tripp and Lewinsky’s friendship grew, Lewinsky confided in Tripp about her unprofessional relationship with President Bill Clinton. Tripp began secretly recording her conversations with Lewinsky, as advised by her literary agent, and collected over 20 hours of detailed information about Lewinsky’s sexual relationship with Clinton. These tapes were key to the impeachment of Clinton in 1998.
As an act of retaliation, the Department of Defense unlawfully released confidential information from Tripp’s security clearance file for her role in the presidential impeachment proceedings. Linda Tripp blew the whistle on the Defense Department for an alleged violation of the Privacy Act, which prevents an entity from releasing personal information from being disclosed without the individual’s prior approval.
Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto got Tripp her Privacy Act settlement, which included a retroactive promotion and retroactive pay at a higher salary of $595,000, along with other financial benefits.
“The three co-founders of the National Whistleblower Center, these are important names, Stephen Kohn, Michael Kohn, and David Colapinto, thank you so much for all that you do, they broke the mold with these visionaries and we are all better for it,” stated Linda Tripp at the 2018 National Whistleblower Day event.
Kohn, Kohn, & Colapinto extends their gratitude and appreciation to these strong female whistleblowers. Their courage and efforts do not go unnoticed as they exemplify the courage that whistleblowers have in risking their careers to stop corruption.
“We have seen a trend where female whistleblowers are treated worse off than their male counterparts,” Stephen Kohn said. “It was obvious within the FBI. Due to inherent sexism, I believe women whistleblowers have a harder time and deserve the same respect that men get when they raise issues within their workplace.”
Today, and every day, Kohn, Kohn, & Colapinto wishes to commend these whistleblowers.
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