COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP)
-- The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency illegally punished
the coordinator of a contamination investigation and must
reinstate him, an administrative law judge has ruled.
The EPA must pay Paul Jayko for wages and other benefits
lost when he was transferred to the agency's Bowling Green
office, said Judge Thomas F. Phalen Jr. of Cincinnati, an
administrative law judge for the Labor Department.
Phalen ruled this week that Jayko is protected
under a federal whistle-blower law.
He said Jayco cannot be punished for writing critical
internal memos of an investigation of possible links between
contaminated soil on the River Valley High School campus in
Marion County and the number of leukemia cases among
Whistleblower laws were written to protect people from
their employers when they bring a safety-related issue to
light. Jayko's case was the first by an Ohio EPA employee to
test those laws.
The judge also ordered the EPA to pay Jayko's legal fees
and to post notices of his reinstatement at the EPA's main and
district offices for at least 90 days.
``It's still so hard for me to believe that my superiors
could go so far as to set me up, frame me and destroy my whole
life,'' Jayko said in a statement released by his attorney,
Dennis Muchnicki. ``I just tried to do my job and tell the
Phalen ruled the agency violated the law by suspending
Jayco for 10 days in the summer of 1998 and removing him as
lead investigator of the case in Marion. Jayco has been
employed as a EPA site coordinator since 1991.
Several EPA managers testified during the nine-day hearing
before Phalen that Jayko was disciplined because of a failure
Other people said that Jayko was a respected employee and
that charges of drinking two beers before a night meeting and
falsifying an expense report were fabricatd to justify the
decision to reassign him.
Carol Hester, an EPA spokeswoman, said the agency disagrees
with Phalen's ruling.
The River Valley high school and middle school, located 40
miles north of Columbus, sit on the former Marion Engineering
Depot, where the Army repaired heavy engineering equipment and
where chemical waste was dumped for a number of years.
Then-Gov. George Voinovich ordered the EPA to ``leave no
stone unturned'' in its investigation after the agency was
notified in June 1997 of unusually high rates of leukemia
among River Valley graduates.
Jayko testified he tried to ``kick-start'' the process with
memos suggesting air, soil and water tests be performed before
students returned to school that fall.
The tests were not conducted until shortly before school
began. Tests later revealed contamination under playing fields
that have since been closed off. An investigation continues at
Although a state study determined that the rate of leukemia
is higher than expected among River Valley graduates, school
officials have been told the campus is safe.
Voters in November will consider a bond issue that would
allow the district to build two school buildings and relocate