Never Turn a Blind Eye: WSFF Salutes African-American Whistleblowers

Cesareo Manansala

“If you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to do something about it.” - John Robert Lewis, United States Representative, Civil Rights Activist

February is Black History Month. Whistleblower Summit & Film Festival commemorates this important annual observance by honoring some of the most notable African-American whistleblowers and their efforts to combat wrongdoings within many different environments. We cannot agree more with Representative Lewis’s above wise words; as human beings, we are all obligated to take action upon seeing unethical or illegal behaviors. And that is exactly what these brave African-American men and women did: they witnessed gross misconduct, and took the necessary action to resolve it.

WSFF pays tribute to the following notable African-American whistleblowers and their respective actions against certain high-profile institutions:

Michael McCray and Marcel Reid (ACORN)

We would be remiss as a pro-whistleblower organization if we didn’t include our own co-founders Michael McCray and Marcel Reid. As veteran members of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), McCray and Reid witnessed corruption, fraud, and other criminal activities within a group that initially advocated towards assisting low- to moderate-income families. McCray and Reid blew the whistle on various corrupt members of ACORN by unveiling illicit behaviors behind the scenes. Both whistleblowers would leave ACORN and together create the Whistleblower Summit & Film Festival as a forum to honor all brave individuals who fought to unleash truths as hard as they have through the prolific power of the cinema. McCray would write about his ACORN whistleblowing experiences in his book, Race, Power, & Politics (ACORN8). Whistleblower Summit & Film Festival Event Organizers

Scott Davis (Veteran Affairs)

Scott Davis served as a Program Specialist at a Georgia-based VA claims center when he and other VA staffers reported vast mismanagement problems at Atlanta’s Health Eligibility Center (HEC). The HEC is responsible for processing health care eligibility claims for VA hospitals all over the United States. However, Davis was one of four whistleblowers who reported internal problems such as a backlog of 600,000 applications, the deletion of thousands of veterans’ health records, the mismanagement of federal funds, and excessive patient wait times. After raising his concerns about these problems, Davis and his fellow whistleblowers would find themselves the victims of retaliation by the HEC through alleged intimidation and harassment by his superiors.

Undaunted by the retaliation, Davis would testify before Congress in 2014 to voice his findings against the HEC. Davis’ whistleblowing would ultimately lead to a push from the United States Office of Special Counsel (OSC) towards protection for all VA whistleblowers. (VA Whistleblowers Say They Faced Retaliation for Reporting Problems )

Matthew Fogg (United States Marshals)

Deputy US Marshal Matthew Fogg alleged that he faced racial discrimination while on duty. His particular case would result in the Marshals settling a long-standing class-action lawsuit alleging racial discrimination in hiring, job promotions, and assignments.

In 1985, Fogg filed a complaint against the Marshals, accusing the service of racial discrimination after receiving a harsh reprimand and a transfer as punishment for purportedly misusing a government car, based on court documents. Subsequently, Fogg was twice not given his routine scheduled performance rating, as well as being denied GS-12 to GS-13 level promotions as expected. He would also be removed from field duty and reduced to desk job assignments. Citing “severe psychological stress,” Fogg stopped working in 1993. The Marshal Service gave him a fitness-for duty exam and ordered him back to work the following year, but he refused, which led to his dismissal in 1995 for insubordination since he did not comply with the Service’s directives. 

In 1998, a jury found the Marshal Service had subjected Fogg to a racially-hostile work environment and discriminated against him due to his race. The jury awarded Fogg $4 million. ( U.S. Marshals Pay $15 Million to Settle Race Discrimination Case )

Dr. Tommie “Toni” Savage (Army Corp of Engineers) 

Dr. Tommie “Toni” Savage is notable for her fight to establish the right for federal whistleblowers to pursue hostile work environment claims.

Dr. Savage embarked on her whistleblower pursuit after being named to head the US Army Corp of Engineers at the Huntsville, AL contracting office. Upon beginning her new position, she witnessed unchecked systemic government contracting fraud. She reported her claims to various levels of command, to no avail. Dr. Savage then alleged that her whistleblowing resulted in acts of retaliation against her, from demotions to on-the-job clerical/staffing difficulties, and even racial insults. The resulting toxic work environment would lead to Dr. Savage suffering from panic attacks upon entering her workplace. The Army would soon terminate her for being Absent Without Leave (AWOL).

She would take her complaints to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), who ruled in favor of Dr. Savage, and ordered the Army to initiate a corrective action in the landmark whistleblower case that followed. MSPB Rules in Favor of Army Corps of Engineers Whistleblower in Landmark Case

No matter the environment, no matter the circumstance, these brave whistleblowers risked their careers and personal dignities to unveil the unethical activity around them, and they succeeded in their efforts. Like them, we should all never turn a blind eye to wrongdoing; we should ultimately follow in their examples. 

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