For her advocacy, Kellie faced an outpouring of hostility within the Agency. On April 29, 2015, Peace Corps managers stripped Kellie of her supervisory duties and exiled her from OVA. This action in and of itself violated the Kate Puzey Act, which requires that Kellie report directly to the Director at all times. On April 30, 2015, Peace Corps delegated “all official OVA business matters” to Kellie’s subordinate, who was less committed to victims’ rights and whom the Agency felt was more popular with its staff. On October 5, 2015, the Agency notified Kellie that it was proposing her removal, placed her on administrative leave, and escorted her out of the premises. The proposal itself is rife with unlawful reasons for removing Kellie. It found that other Agency offices did not “like” her. In contrast, the Daily Beast reporter found in his discussions with Peace Corps volunteers that Kellie was well-liked by them, because they felt she was on their side. (For the full article, click here.) Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX), one of the architects of the Kate Puzey Act, opined that the Agency’s action against Kellie “looks very sinister… based on what I know… She… may have asked too many questions.” On November 9, 2015, Peace Corps decided to “mitigate” its penalty to a 120-day suspension.
To put the Peace Corps’ penalty in perspective, other federal employees, some of whom were accused of verbally abusing or publicly humiliating their subordinates, were penalized with 30 day suspensions or less. See, e.g., Hughey v. Dep’t of Treasury, 59 MSPR 480; Gores v. VA, 68 MSPR 100 (1995). Here, Peace Corps accused Kellie of disrupting the Agency culture; in essence, of doing her job.
Kellie’s whistleblower retaliation claims and other disclosures are currently before the Office of Special Counsel, an independent government agency tasked with prosecuting violations of the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989. For a copy of the Peace Corps’ proposal to remove Kellie, our response, and their final decision, click here, here, and here.
For more information about this post or how you can protect your rights, please contact Nina Ren.
We have written quite extensively about whistleblower rights before: