Shot by Their Own Men: How the Virginia Senate Inadvertently Predicts Republican Decline
By Jeremiah Goulka, Truthout | Op-Ed
Woo, That VRS Pension Reform Came Along Just in the Nick of Time
Posted on November 30, 2012 by James A. Bacon| 2 Comments
A University of Virginia researcher has been awarded more than $850,000 after a federal jury found he was fired after telling authorities that his supervisor altered a grant awarded to him by the National Institutes of Health.
Weihua Huang filed the lawsuit in August 2011, claiming he was fired by the university after he reported to supervisors that Ming D. Li, a laboratory supervisor, changed figures on the grant that spelled out how much time would be spent by lab staff on the project. Those figures determined how much money from the project would be paid to staff members.
Huang’s suit was filed under the False Claims Act of federal law and the Whistle Blower Protection Act. It named the rector and UVa’s Board of Visitors as defendants along with Li and Bankole A. Johnson, chairman of UVa’s Department of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences.
Adam Carter, Huang’s attorney, said his client was awarded about $160,000 in back pay, which would be doubled under the law. Huang also was awarded $500,000 in compensation for non-economic damages. The judge will consider whether to award lost future wages or order Huang’s reinstatement at a later date.
“This decision is important to the entire grant community because, on these grants, levels of efforts are assigned and the principal investigator is responsible for the use of the money,” Carter said. “That is the person who needs to be responsible and, in this case, that responsibility was taken over by the lab director.”
Carter said the decision is also important as it helps set precedent for cases filed under the False Claims Act cases.
“There are precious few of these cases that go to trial and get a verdict,” he said.
UVa officials could not be reached for comment for this story Friday.
According to the suit, Huang applied for and received $378,750 in NIH funds in 2008 to support his research on the genetics of nicotine addiction and smoking behavior. The research was to be conducted between June 2009 and February 2010.
The terms of the grant said Huang was to allocate 50 percent of his working time to the project and Li was to allocate 5 percent of his time.
Huang later discovered that Li changed the figures and assigned a new person to the job. The suit claimed that Li increased his level of effort from 5 percent to 7.5 percent, increased Huang’s level of effort from 50 percent to 75 percent, and assigned 50 percent of a lab technician’s time to the project, all without consulting Huang, the principal investigator.
The suit claimed that the unauthorized changes did not reflect the actual work that was being conducted and that the technician performed no work on the project.
In October 2009, Huang reported the unauthorized changes to UVa officials, who told Huang that the changes would be readjusted and any money withdrawn under the changes refunded. The suit claims the money was not refunded, however.
The NIH, when informed of the changes to grant more than a year later, declined to investigate the matter.
In November 2009, Huang was given written notice that his employment contract would not be renewed when it expired the next year. The notice also precluded Huang from using Li’s laboratory without prior permission. The suit said that, in December 2009, new locks were placed on the laboratory that hindered Huang’s access.
In February 2010, Huang was “informed that he was facing immediate termination due to his supposed lack of compliance” with the November 2009 notice of nonrenewal, according to the suit, and Huang filed a grievance with the Faculty Senate Grievance Committee.
In May 2010, the school placed Huang on administrative leave without pay, saying that Huang did not comply with the terms of the November 2009 notice, but the Faculty Senate Peer Review Panel found that the university did not properly justify Huang’s proposed termination.
Huang’s suit claimed that UVa “retaliated against him for exercising his constitutional right of free speech as a private citizen for speaking out on a matter of public concern.” UVa claimed that Huang and Li had personal issues and that Huang was let go because of his performance and conflicts with supervisors.
The matter went to the jury after U.S. District Court Judge Norman K. Moon ruled that there was a reasonable chance that the dismissal could be related to Huang’s disclosing the changes in the grant pay scheme.
“I find that there is ample evidence from which a reasonable jury could infer that [UVa’s] decision to issue Dr. Huang the non-renewal letter was motivated, at least in part, by Dr. Huang’s protected activity — namely, presenting his suspicions about the fraudulent allocation of levels of effort on the grant,” Moon wrote in a Sept. 6 ruling that let the matter go to a jury trial. “I cannot say that [UVa has] affirmatively shown that they would have made the same decision irrespective of Dr. Huang’s protected activity.”
Daily Progress staff writer Samantha Koon contributed to this story.
A Roanoke Circuit Court judge on Wednesday upheld the city manager’s decision regarding a complaint by four Roanoke firefighters.
The four members of Roanoke Fire-EMS — Andy Foley, Scott Boone, David Lucas and Trevor Shannon — filed a grievance with the city late last month, claiming that promotions they qualified for and were due to receive were never finalized.
Their position statement includes a Jan. 5, 2010, memo from the office of Roanoke Fire-EMS Chief David Hoback announcing their rise to the rank of lieutenant.
In August, City Manager Chris Morrill determined that their complaint was filed improperly and well beyond the 20-day time limit the city requires.
Judge William Broadhurst on Wednesday concurred with Morrill’s decision, according to the firefighters’ lawyer, John Loeschen.
“There’s nothing we can do,” Loeschen said. He said Foley, Boone, Lucas and Shannon will “keep doing what they’ve done the last few years.
“Meanwhile the city gets the benefit of people who are educated and trained as lieutenants, but they only have to pay them as firefighters.”
Their collective pay increase would amount to about an additional $6,000 a year, he said.
Earlier this month, acting City Attorney Tim Spencer and Roanoke Fire-EMS spokeswoman Tiffany Bradbury declined to comment on the grievance because it is a personnel matter.
Sometimes comedians can take the day off. Sometimes the punchlines write themselves.
See if you can follow this one, keeping in mind that it is a news story and not a joke.
Jill McGlone, a former social worker for the city of Norfolk, continued to collect paychecks – about $30,000 per year – for 12 years after she stopped doing the job.
Now she’s being sued And she’s filed for bankruptcy.
So in a nutshell, the city paid her 12 years of salary for nothing, and when she gets caught she tries to block a lawsuit by saying she has no money.
By Jillian Nolin – Louis Hansen – The Virginian-Pilot – August 14, 2012 – NORFOLK
Jill McGlone, the former Community Services Board staffer who stayed on the payroll for 12 years but did not work, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy Monday. If granted, it would thwart the city from recouping any of the money the agency paid her.
The former administrative assistant filed a voluntary petition in federal bankruptcy court. It listed $44,497.40 from a Norfolk Circuit Court judgment as one of her outstanding obligations. The debt, according to her petition, was incurred this month, even though a judge hasn’t determined that she owes the city any money. Her request comes two days before the city and McGlone were scheduled for a court hearing on the issue.
A Norfolk judge has dismissed claims against four other employees from whom the city wanted to collect money. The judge has also limited the time for which the city can try to collect back pay from McGlone. The city originally sought $320,000, which is the amount the CSB had paid her over 12 years.
The nearly $45,000 that McGlone listed as a debt with the CSB includes her salary and benefits paid after April 11, 2008.
In her bankruptcy filing, McGlone reported total liabilities of $237,662, with about 9 percent of the debt related to credit cards. McGlone’s most significant claim was the $154,000 that she and her husband owe on their Norvella Heights home.
The McGlones intend to retain their home, according to Monday’s petition.
McGlone was suspended from the CSB in 1998 after being accused of bringing to work a box-cutter, which officials called a weapon, according to documents the The Virginian-Pilot previously obtained from the agency. She tried to get reinstated but was not allowed, the documents show.
She was fired in May 2010, shortly after the agency’s new executive director learned of the payments to her. The city also forced out five employees who either formerly supervised McGlone or who worked at the agency at that time.
John W. Bonney, who is representing McGlone in the bankruptcy and Norfolk Circuit Court cases, wrote in an email Monday that the pending state court action would be stayed under the U.S. bankruptcy code and that “her debt, if any to the city of Norfolk, will be discharged.”
McGlone listed Victoria’s Secret as her employer for the past four years and her husband as being on disability.
Deputy City Attorney Adam Melita declined to comment on McGlone’s bankruptcy filing. City spokeswoman Lori Crouch said the city is awaiting the bankruptcy court’s decision.
The CSB, which previously got a significant portion of its budget from the city, became a city department last month. It provides mental health care and drug treatment to the community’s poor.
Kenny Bryant, chairman of the CSB’s board, said the news of McGlone’s bankruptcy filing was disappointing.
“The taxpayers have a right to get their money back,” Bryant said.
Four of the employees who were forced out after the scandal became public have filed defamation lawsuits against former agency director Maureen Womack.
Those lawsuits are pending in Norfolk Circuit Court.
A special grand jury was impaneled in February and continues to investigate whether a criminal offense was committed.
FALMOUTH — Virginia’s Legislature won’t convene for six months, but House of Delegates Speaker William Howell is gearing up for the 2013 legislative session and already sees reform efforts on the horizon.
House of Delegates Speaker William Howell
In a one-on-one interview Monday with Virginia Watchdog, Howell, R-Falmouth, predicted a push for tort reform and further efforts at curbing public-employee pension costs.
The Legislature is scheduled to meet for 46 days in 2013.
The Republican-dominated House, along with Virginia’s business community, are eager to ease the rules for dismissing lawsuits as part of a tort reform package, Howell said.
Unlike other states that allow for summary dismissals by a judge before a civil trial begins, Virginia law requires that plaintiffs and defendants put on a full case first, said Howell, a lawyer.
“There hasn’t been much tort reform in the last 15 years,” said the veteran lawmaker, who was first elected in 1988.
The House Courts of Justice Committee is scheduled to debate a streamlined tort law proposal on July 18.
Howell also predicted that public-pension costs will be up for more discussion next year.
Though the state pumped millions into the pension fund this year and has developed a “hybrid” pension combining the current defined-benefit system with a defined-contribution model used in the private sector, Howell said efforts thus far have “only nibbled around the edges” of real reform.
House and Senate Republicans may have an ally in state employee unions, who, Howell said, are open to conversion. But, he added, the Virginia Education Association, the state’s teachers union, remains unalterably opposed.
While the GOP has built a working 68-32 advantage in the House of Delegates in recent years, the Senate is deadlocked at 20-20.
The 2012 General Assembly session will be remembered for many positive achievements when it is reviewed in years to come. One of the biggest of those achievements: the work led by Gov. Bob McDonnell to stabilize and strengthen the Virginia Retirement System for the thousands of Virginians who depend upon it.
The governor led the way to funding the highest employer contribution in VRS history while also instituting new reforms that will lower total unfunded liabilities by nearly $9 billion by 2031. That all adds up to a more solvent system. It affirms a commitment to our hard-working state employees, teachers, firefighters, police and local employees who are counting on VRS to fund their retirement benefits.
The state and local retirement reforms enacted by the General Assembly this year reflect the priorities set by the governor and were made possible by the leadership of several legislators, including Sen. John Watkins, Speaker Bill Howell and Del. Chris Jones.
These reforms usher in a new era of options for state and local employees and take major steps toward addressing the rapidly increasing unfunded liabilities of the retirement system, which were estimated by VRS to total nearly $24 billion.
The historic reforms include changing some of the benefits, providing a new hybrid retirement plan and the largest employer contribution to VRS in its history.
These reform actions constitute a significant effort to address the existing unfunded liabilities that face Virginia and achieve long-term financial security for the commonwealth. As a result, Moody’s Investor Service quickly issued a notice citing our reforms as a “credit positive.”
* * * * *
Gov. McDonnell pledged that pension reform was one of his main priorities this year. However, enacting these types of major pension reforms is never easy. In fact, it was a very challenging process. It takes the collaborative effort of both employers and employees working together. That’s what we’ve done in Virginia. We’ve come together across party lines to reform our system.
The centerpiece of this year’s significant Virginia retirement reform creates a new hybrid pension/401(k)-style retirement plan, which combines a traditional pension defined-benefit component with a defined-contribution component. The reforms lower annual employer contributions to provide financial flexibility to the commonwealth, while encouraging employees to save their own money in their retirement accounts.
State and local employees in the new hybrid plan will pay 4 percent of their salaries toward the pension defined-benefit component and 1 percent of their salaries into the defined-contribution component of the plan. The state and local government employers will pay a mandatory 1 percent to the defined-contribution component, with an optional match for employees who contribute more to their retirement plan.
The hybrid retirement plan will be mandatory for all new state and local government employees beginning Jan. 1, 2014, excluding public-safety employees, such as police, firefighters and other first-responders. The new hybrid plan will also be available as an option to current employees, many of whom may find it preferable to the traditional plan in which they currently participate.
On Jan. 1, 2013, additional retirement reforms will include a deferral of cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) for all employees who retire with fewer than 20 years of service on a reduced retirement benefit.
For all non-vested employees and those employees who started after July 1, 2010, COLAs will now be capped at 3 percent per year, the multiplier formula will be slightly reduced for all except public-safety employees, and the average final compensation will now be calculated from the highest 60 consecutive months of employment.
* * * * *
All state employees were required last year to begin contributing 5 percent of their salaries toward their pensions, which was offset by a 5 percent raise.
This year’s legislation, as amended by Gov. McDonnell, expands that contribution to include local employees who are in VRS. The mandatory contribution is offset by a pay raise from the localities, which can phase-in the requirement and the pay raise over 5 years.
The commonwealth will also begin to increase the employer contribution rate for the existing defined-benefit plan so that over the next six years it conforms to the actuarial-recommended contribution rate using a 7 percent investment yield assumption.
Under the provision of the reform legislation, an employee will take a personal stake in their retirement and invest a portion of their paychecks toward their future financial security. Risks will be shared between the employer and the employee. Responsibility will be delineated and accountability will be enhanced.
As proposed by Gov. McDonnell, the biennial budget includes an estimated total of $2.4 billion in employer contributions for state employees, teachers and law enforcement — the largest employer contribution to VRS in history. The budgeted employer contribution for state employees alone for fiscal years 2013 and 2014 is estimated to total $596.9 million.
The governor has been determined to make the difficult decisions that will ensure the long-term solvency of our retirement system, and this year’s VRS reforms address this goal. By enacting these reforms, we are able to move closer to guaranteeing security for VRS contributors.
The simple truth is that our state retirement system just will not work without the employer and the employee contributing more in the years ahead. The state is doing its part by allocating the largest employer biennial contribution to VRS in Virginia history. Under the enacted reforms, state and local employees will join the commonwealth in ensuring that their retirement system remains solid for years to come.