A Social Security Administration (SSA) disability judge admitted to routinely being drunk on the job and sexually assaulting a federal security guard, and now claims government employee union precedents bar his being disciplined since he says his superiors knowingly tolerated numerous other employees being inebriated in the office.
Sridhar Boini is also invoking disability on his own behalf, saying his alcoholism is a condition government managers must accommodate, a March 22 filing with the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) shows. He demands the right to try cases over video so he could keep drawing a paycheck without the public being exposed to him.
Boini has filed multiple appeals demanding to keep his job after being sentenced to house arrest and probation. The government faces expensive lawsuits from multiple women claiming he molested them, one of whom says she is now disabled because of the mental stress of the assault.
A year before the most recent incident, another security guard reported being drunkenly groped by Boini, but SSA apparently took no disciplinary action.
Some of the incidents took place in a public area of the Scranton, Penn., SSA office, and numerous people whose cases Boini adjudicated are now appealing on the basis that the judge may have been drunk when he turned them down.
Boini claims the disability agency is discriminating against him due to his alcoholic disability, which he said officials must have known about because of his frequent on-the-job drinking.
He argues that SSA “had established a past practice of condoning employees’ consumption of alcohol while on duty,” so under union rules it would be unfair to single him out for discipline now.
“Past practice” is a government employee union phrase for the idea that when something happens in federal offices for a long time without management stopping it, it becomes a right. SSA judges are unionized even though they are elite, highly paid positions of “prominence,” as the MSPB put it.
A female security guard, Alice De Quevedo, said July 26, 2012, Boini lured her into his office and grabbed her breasts and tried to kiss her against her will.
Boini “further admitted that he pled guilty to attempting or recklessly causing bodily injury to the security guard on July 26, 2012, and that he was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the incident. In his answer, the respondent also raised affirmative defenses of disability-based disparate treatment, failure to accommodate, and an unfair labor practice based on the petitioner’s alleged failure to comply with the provisions of the governing collective bargaining agreement,” the MSPB wrote.
In November 2012, Boini was charged with simple assault and two counts of indecent assault, one for each woman involved in the incidents. He pleaded guilty to one of the charges and got three months house arrest and two years probation, the local Times-Tribune reported in 2013.
De Quevedo got $50,000 in a settlement from the federal government after filing suit claiming officials failed to protect workers after doing nothing following the first woman’s complaint.
The first woman, Florence Gaffney, also launched a $200,000 lawsuit, claiming she developed a mental disability from the assault’s trauma for which she deserved to be compensated.
On June 30, 2011, Boini “fondled her right and left breasts” against her will in the Social Security offices, and she smelled alcohol on his breath, and several days later, he “made sexual gestures” with his tongue, her suit said.
The suit claimed Boini would “routinely consume alcohol during work hours” and display “inappropriate and/or illicit behavior towards females,” and, like Boini contends, the behavior was so frequent and obvious his bosses knew or should have known.
Gaffney said she developed PTSD, depression, and anxiety and “was rendered sick and disabled” as a result. She charged that SSA “fail[ed] to take any disciplinary action” after she filed a complaint about the assault, which was witnessed by another guard.
Boini appealed to the MSPB’s highest body after an initial appeal was denied. He appears to have changed his story, claiming his sexual advances were consensual even though he had already admitted to, and pleaded guilty to, assault.
But the top-level MSPB rejected his appeal, noting repeatedly the disability judge filed poorly argued and seldom-documented appeals in his own case.
“[E]ven though some agency officials were aware that employees, including the respondent, would have one or two alcoholic beverages at lunch on occasion, that alone does not mean that any of those employees were under the influence of alcohol while on duty, or that the agency should have known that the respondent was an alcoholic,” MSPB wrote.
“The respondent’s argument that the [SSA] established a past practice of permitting alcohol consumption during the workday is unrelated to the charged misconduct in this case.”
In his appeals, which sought to overturn his firing, Boini employed multiple techniques that are common in secret, quasi-judicial disability hearings like the ones he presided over, but the MSPB, a government-wide discipline appeals body, found them lacking.
He argued that the administrative law judge who heard his initial appeal should have deferred to the written opinions of medical doctors hired by him to say his alcoholism was a disability, instead of coming to his own conclusion about the appropriateness of his actions.
“We further find no merit to the respondent’s claim… that the administrative law judge substituted his judgment for that of a medical professional,” MSPB wrote.
SSA gives lifetime disability payments for medical conditions even when their effects can be treated. Recipients aren’t required to be receiving medical treatment and are seldom re-evaluated to see if they got better.
The disability system threatens to bankrupt Social Security as payments skyrocketed after 1994 welfare reform rules kicked in and many former welfare recipients began claiming permanent illnesses.
Legions of disability lawyers and even SSA employees advise claimants if they continue appealing, dubious claims are often eventually granted.
The MSPB ruling means Boini remains fired. But the board noted he could appeal further to the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission or the federal courts.
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