ARI SHAPIRO, host:
The office of Special Counsel is a watchdog agency. Its role is to investigate complaints from government workers who say they've been mistreated. For years, whistle-blower groups have complained that the watchdog is asleep. They say Scott Bloch, who runs the office of Special Counsel, has ignored stacks of legitimate complaints from federal employees. Now the Justice Department is investigating Bloch. FBI agents stormed his home and office in a high-profile raid. And this morning, we're going to take a step back and look in detail at one of the complaints Bloch ignored. It's the case of a woman named Benetta Mansfield.
Ms. BENETTA MANSFIELD: This case had everything. You know, it had whistle-blowing. It had prohibitive personnel practices. It had a whole laundry list of things going on.
SHAPIRO: Mansfield used to be chief of staff at a federal agency that handles labor disputes with airlines and railroads. It's called the National Mediation Board. In 2002, President Bush appointed his first new board member, a Texas lawyer named Ed Fitzmaurice.
Ms. MANSFIELD: As soon as he got onboard, he started using abusive language towards me, that I was bush-league, that I was a pushy Jewish woman, and he didn't need another one in his life.
SHAPIRO: Fitzmaurice refused repeated offers to tell his side of the story, but other people corroborate Mansfield's account, like Fitzmaurice's former secretary.
Unidentified Man #1: Do you solemnly swear or affirm the information you're about to give here today is the whole truth and nothing but the truth, ma'am?
Ms. BARBARA CASEY (Former Secretary, Ed Fitzmaurice): I do.
Unidentified Man: Okay. Please be seated.
SHAPIRO: Barbara Casey sat down for this interview with attorneys at the Office of Special Counsel in 2004. The following year, she died of cancer.
Unidentified Man: Did you ever have occasion to, in Mr. Fitzmaurice's presence, hear him make any other derogatory types of comments towards Ms. Mansfield?
Ms. CASEY: Well, he referred to her as a B-I-T-C-H.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. CASEY: (unintelligible)
SHAPIRO: It turns out Fitzmaurice had a history with Benetta Mansfield, although she didn't know it. Years ago, Mansfield disqualified one of Fitzmaurice's friends from a union election. Fitzmaurice told his secretary Barbara Casey that Benetta Mansfield would have to go.
Ms. CASEY: I said, you know, what do you mean she's going to have to go? Well, she deep-sixed a good buddy of mine in Texas.
SHAPIRO: Fitzmaurice never forgot what Mansfield had done.
Mr. FRANK DUGAN (National Mediation Board): I've since come to know him as someone who's perfectly happy to lay in the weeds and wait for his chance again.
SHAPIRO: This is Frank Dugan, the man who brought Fitzmaurice to the National Mediation Board.
Mr. DUGAN: In the first week that he came to work, he had three women crying -physically crying - in the office. He's a bully, and he particularly a bully with women.
SHAPIRO: Dugan says he's speaking out now to, in his words, atone for his sins.
Mr. DUGAN: I really believe in public service, and this guy does not belong in public service. And I invented him. I mean, here, I coached him. I taught him how to get the job. I taught him about the National Mediation Board. I taught him about labor law. And I wish - I've never been so wrong in my life.
SHAPIRO: Fitzmaurice eventually followed through on his promise to get rid of Mansfield. With the help of others at the National Mediation Board, he downgraded her performance evaluation and demoted her.
How are you handling all of this?
Ms. MANSFIELD: Not well. I was very emotional. I was calling my lawyer every day bursting into tears. I was a mess.
SHAPIRO: So Mansfield took her case to the government office that's supposed to handle these types of problems, which brings us back to the Office of Special Counsel and Scott Bloch.
The office decided to investigate further. That's rare.
Ms. MANSFIELD: We were feeling like this case was, you know, we were making some progress. I was feeling really good.
SHAPIRO: Sources with firsthand knowledge of the investigation say OSC was prepared to act. Lawyers there drafted a document that would've stopped Benetta Mansfield's demotion. Would have, but didn't. The career attorneys handling Mansfield's case were forced out for reasons having nothing to do with the case. And for Mansfield, that was a catastrophe.
Here's her lawyer, Beth Slavet.
Ms. BETH SLAVET (Attorney): You finally get over that hurdle, and a meteor hits your case, and all of a sudden, it's destroyed.
SHAPIRO: The case went to a political deputy at the Office of Special Counsel, who threw it out. Jim Mitchell is the office spokesman, and he says the case predates him, so he can't comment on it specifically. But he also says the office can't pursue every case and still remain efficient.
Mr. JIM MITCHELL (Spokesman, Office of Special Counsel): We have, in the last few years, made quite a bit of progress in getting rid of backlogs of whistle-blower cases and prosecuting cases and getting settlements for people, getting corrective action.
Ms. DEBORAH KATZ (Attorney): There's a common theme here.
SHAPIRO: Attorney Deborah Katz says there are many cases like Mansfield's. Katz represents a group of federal whistle-blowers in a lawsuit against the Office of Special Counsel.
Ms. KATZ: Bloch came into office, and instead of aggressively investigating these complaints, he started doing what he called getting rid of the backlog. And what that meant was really just dismissing complaints rather than investigating them.
SHAPIRO: As for Benetta Mansfield, she eventually took her case to another panel. They worked out a settlement. Now she works for a union representing bus drivers and mechanics in North America. Her former boss, Ed Fitzmaurice, remains in government at an agency called the Federal Mediation Conciliation Service. And Scott Bloch still heads the Office of Special Counsel, where work continues as before.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.