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Petitioning President Barack Obama

Tell USDA Forest Service to follow Civil Rights laws

The White House
President Barack Obama
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

September 13, 2012

Dear Mr. President –

I am writing this letter to you to again discuss my concerns regarding USDA Forest Service civil rights matters. As I’ve stated in the past, the Agency’s failure to follow civil rights laws and regulations has caused undue emotional, physical and financial hardships on employees. Women, minorities, and people with disabilities have been harassed, discriminated against, assaulted, bullied, and ultimately terminated from employment by Secretary Vilsack’s rogue Employee Relations staff, Civil Rights staff and managers. There has been little-to-no change since my first communications in May 2011 with Valerie Jarrett’s aide Michael Blake. Today, I am writing to you about a matter that I believe you will be particularly concerned about. The issue is regarding a female Forest Service employee named Nancy Geehan who has a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). I am requesting your immediate assistance for this courageous USDA employee who, despite difficult odds was able to return to federal employment and perform a job that has had tremendous benefits to the government. That is, until she requested Reasonable Accommodation under the ADA and Rehab Acts. This reasonable accommodation request turned her life into a living nightmare of physical, emotional and financial duress. The remedy is quite simple, but unfortunately it will only be accomplished with your help.

The attached letters from Ms. Geehan and Congresswoman Chellie Pingree to Secretary Vilsack provide the information about Ms. Geehan’s situation and her attempts to remedy it with the assistance of Congresswoman Pingree. Without my going into great detail it is important for you to know that after Ms. Geehan asked for a reasonable accommodation to work with the Maine Vocational Rehab to develop cognitive assistive technology for her job, the Agency violated the ADA and Rehab Acts in multiple ways; refused to allow her to return to work, placing her on 10 pay periods of leave without pay; tried to force her into involuntary disability retirement; and took illegal actions in their attempts to separate her from service. These actions were taken unbeknownst to Ms. Geehan until she received documentation under a FOIA request. Even as she has returned to work, agency management will not provide her with the equipment and connections necessary to perform her job.
As Ms. Geehan stated in her September 12, 2012 letter to Secretary Vilsack, the actions taken against her are the antithesis of your directions to federal agencies in your August 2011 Executive Order 13583 and Executive Orders 13548 and 13163. These Executive Orders gave great hope to people with disabilities. The orders acknowledged that people with disabilities are productive members of society and the federal government would emphasize recruitment, hiring, promotion and retention of this ever-growing segment of society. Unfortunately, the USDA has failed to actually implement its strategic plan required under Executive Order 13583 as is apparent with their actions against Ms. Geehan.
It should be of particular concern to you, Mr. President that the USDA wants no part of dealing with citizens who have TBI. Traumatic Brain Injury has been called the “Signature Injury” of soldiers in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The Pentagon estimates that upwards of 115,000 soldiers have TBI and a study by the Rand Corporation shows that it could be as high as 400,000 soldiers. By USDA’s current mode of operations, what message is the federal government sending to our veterans? Certainly, it is not one of inclusion and encouragement for employment. In fact, the Pentagon found that 60% of soldiers who suffer from TBI symptoms refused help because they worried that unit leaders would treat them differently or their condition would prevent them from getting jobs. Apparently, their fears have not been unfounded when you look at the way USDA has treated Ms. Geehan. Ms. Geehan, other federal employees, and citizens in general should not have to keep their traumatic brain injuries or any disability a secret from management for fear of losing their jobs. I do not believe you or your administration supports these attitudes and behaviors. And now that we brought this situation to your attention I have hope that we can remedy it and make institutionalized changes so it won’t happen to current and future employees, some who are no doubt be veterans.
The way Ms. Geehan has been treated is shameful. It is an embarrassment to the Obama Administration’s platform of inclusiveness and diversity. I ask that you contact Secretary Vilsack and direct his attention to the immediate resolution of this USDA created problem. Thank you for assistance in this matter.

/s/ Lesa L. Donnelly
Lesa L. Donnelly
Vice President, USDA Coalition of Minority Employees

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