Tuesday, November 07, 2000

Deadline set for whistle-blower suit

Department of labor gets 30 days to decide

By Mark Williams
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — A federal judge on Monday gave the U.S. Department of Labor 30 days to decide whether to sue Ohio on behalf of a state environmental investigator who says he was illegally removed from his job in charge of a contamination investigation at two schools.

        U.S. District Judge Edmund Sargus said federal involvement is necessary if Paul Jayko wants to enforce an administrative law judge order that he be reinstated as site coordinator investigating contamination at River Valley schools near Marion. “Only the Department of Labor can pursue these claims, essentially taking over the case,” Judge Sargus said.

        Judge Sargus' ruling comes in a suit filed by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency against the federal government.

        The agency argued it was immune from the complaint Mr. Jayko filed with the department in June 1998, in which he claimed he had been discriminated against by the OEPA.

        The agency argued that individuals generally are prohibited from suing states. Judge Sargus agreed but said the federal government can take over the case on Mr. Jayko's behalf.

        The agency's suit was filed after the administrative judge ruled Oct. 2 that Mr. Jayko was illegally removed from the job in June 1998. That judge, Thomas Phalen of Cincinnati, also ordered that Mr. Jayko be paid $138,000 in damages and lost wages. The agency also appealed the judge's decision to an administrative review board.

        Department of Justice lawyer Mark Quinlivan said no decision had been made whether the government will get involved.

        Mr. Jayko's lawyer, Dennis Muchnicki, said he may appeal the ruling, though he thinks the department will get involved. He said the state could end the matter by reinstating Mr. Jayko, but “they'll never comply with the law.”

        Assistant Attorney General Jack Decker said the state will wait to see what the department does before determining its next step.

        Mr. Jayko argued he was removed because of questions he raised about the thoroughness of the investigation.

        The OEPA denies removing him from the case and say his responsibilities have not changed.


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