On February 22, 2012, our client, Kellie Greene, became the inaugural Director of the Peace Corps Office of Victim Advocacy, an office newly created by the passage of the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act of 2011. The Kate Puzey Act was born from Kate Puzey’s murder, a tragedy that exposed the Peace Corps’ long history of failing to protect its volunteers from serious crimes and its deep-seated culture of victim blaming. (For ABC’s 20/20 report on this, click here.) The Kate Puzey Act created Kellie’s position for the single purpose of overhauling the Agency’s old guard mentality and to transform the agency into one that cared about volunteer safety. Kellie vigorously attempted to do just that: she confronted Peace Corps about its practice of limiting counseling sessions for victims; she confronted Peace Corps’ practice of involuntarily separating volunteers who became victims of crimes; and she confronted Peace Corps about lecturing sexual assault victims about their alcohol consumption. This morning, CBS aired its interview of Kellie, in which she described how she “pushed the Agency to really do what they have the capability of doing”, and how she was so frustrated by the Agency “because they have the ability to do this and it is a choice not to.”
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: