January 26 2017
Jillian Kay Melchior
In 2012, a security guard working in the Scranton, Pennsylvania, Social Security disability office went to police with a harrowing tale. One of the judges there, Sridhar Boini, had grabbed her by the arm, bruising her, and then groped her chest and forced a boozy kiss on her mouth, she said.
But police were hardly surprised when the woman filed a report about the assault. Just a year earlier, another woman who worked at the same disability office told them that Boini had fondled her breasts at work, and gestured obscenely at her with his mouth and tongue.
After the second woman complained, the SSA put Boini on administrative leave, and his cases were reassigned, according to an email sent by the agency’s chief administrative law judge.
But Boini didn’t just go away. In fact, he kept his job for nearly four years after the second woman went to the police in July 2012, pressing charges. Even more galling, the pervy judge received more than half a million dollars in pay, as well as three raises, after her complaint and before he was fired, according to public records reviewed exclusively by Heat Street and National Review.
Boini remained on the SSA payroll even after he was arrested and pleaded guilty to simple assault in January 2013. His employment stretched on, even as he served three months under house arrest and completed his two-year probation stemming from the guilty plea.
The entire time, the SSA continued to pay Boini’s six-figure salary, which rose from $150,000 in 2012 to more than $166,000 in 2015, new records show. The records, which Heat Street and National Review obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, include emails, documents showing Boini’s caseload, and responses about his salary.
Asked why Boini had continued to draw a salary during this whole period, SSA spokesman Darren Lutz said that before SSA judges can be fired, they are entitled to a hearing and review of the initial decision by the Merit Systems Protection Board, a quasi-judicial board that deals with personnel issues for the federal government. That process “can be lengthy and require an extensive amount of agency resources,” Lutz said.
As the agency awaits that decision, it pays full salary, even if a judge has been put on leave because his “continued presence in the workplace adversely affects legitimate agency interests,” Lutz said. Moreover, judges on administrative leave can receive the “cost of living increases available to other federal employees,” he said.
Boini admitted that he had consumed alcohol on the job and committed sexual misconduct. But he fought to keep his job, claiming his alcoholism was a disability the SSA should accommodate.
Boini unsuccessfully demanded that the federal government allow him to keep conducting hearings remotely, by video, “to limit his contact with members of the public,” according to the Merit Systems Protection Board.
Taxpayers have borne not only the costs of Boini’s salary but also the cost of a settlement with at least one of his victims. Alice De Quevedo, the second woman who complained about Boini, successfully sued the federal government for $50,000, arguing that the SSA failed to protect its employees, especially after the first complaint about the judge’s sexual misconduct.
The woman who filed the first report about Boini, Florence Gaffney, also has an ongoing suit with the federal government, in which she is seeking $50,000. She declined to press charges in 2011, but she says Boini’s assault left her with “severe psychiatric injuries and damages,” including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety.
Heat Street reached out to lawyers for the two women seeking comment, but we did not hear back by deadline.
This isn’t the first time Social Security disability judges have remained on the payroll despite egregious misconduct.
Heavily redacted email correspondence reviewed by Heat Street and National Review show more reports of sexual harassment by other disability judges, whose names were not released.
Another example: Judge Harry Taylor, who works in Charleston, West Virginia, continued to hear disability cases despite allegations that he had sexually harassed colleagues and had even slept (including audibly snoring) during hearings, according to a 2014 House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform report.
The Social Security disability fund is ill-equipped to pay hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to misbehaving judges.
Since 2009, its disability payments have far exceeded its revenue. Social Security’s disability program was on track for depletion in 2016; only after Congress diverted funds was it prevented from reducing disability payments by 20 percent. And even with that stop-gap measure, the Social Security disability trust fund is on track to run dry in the next five years.
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.