published February 24, 2001
Jayko: He will
continue to probe cancer cases in Marion.
BY JAMES DREW
COLUMBUS - The Ohio Environmental
Protection Agency has settled a legal battle with an employee who
was removed as the chief investigator into whether a cluster of
leukemia cases is linked to the River Valley schools complex near
Paul Jayko, a Toledo resident who works in the EPA’s
Bowling Green district, will return next week as a coordinator at
the schools and two other sites where the military decades ago
burned or buried tons of highly toxic chemicals.
"It has been
a much longer road than I ever thought it would be, but I stand here
today finally feeling that in the eyes of the EPA, I’ve been
vindicated," Mr. Jayko said.
Mr. Jayko will receive $80,000
in compensatory damages and lost wages, and $20,000 for court costs.
His two attorneys will receive $285,000 in legal fees, said Ohio EPA
Director Chris Jones.
In return, Mr. Jayko will dismiss the
complaint he filed in July, 1998, with the U.S. Department of
That complaint charged that the Ohio EPA violated
seven environmental "whistleblower" statutes by reassigning him
after he pushed for a more thorough investigation of leukemia cases
among River Valley graduates. The schools were built in 1962 on a
78-acre military dump.
Mr. Jayko was the first Ohio EPA
employee to test the whistleblower laws, which are designed to
protect people from their employers when they bring sensitive safety
issues to light.
The EPA decided to settle the case after the
U.S. Department of Labor intervened on Mr. Jayko’s behalf, saying it
agreed that the state violated the statutes.
has recognized that I never did anything wrong and did not deserve
to be disciplined for the false charges that were brought against
me," Mr. Jayko said at a news conference with Mr.
Until yesterday, the Ohio EPA had maintained that Mr.
Jayko was disciplined and reassigned in 1998 because of a failure to
communicate and that he drank two beers before a night meeting and
falsified an expense report.
But some state EPA officials
said the charges were drummed up to justify the decision to reassign
Mr. Jayko away from the Marion investigation.
2000, an administrative law judge agreed, awarding Mr. Jayko a
$139,789 settlement and ordering the state to reinstate him to the
leukemia investigation he helped start in 1997.
agreement does not include any admission that the EPA retaliated
against Mr. Jayko for pushing for a more thorough investigation of
the leukemia cluster.
But in a letter to Mr. Jayko that is
part of the agreement, Mr. Jones wrote that he would not have taken
disciplinary action against him.
"Based upon my review and
file and circumstances, I personally would not have concluded that
you knowingly drank on duty or falsified a meal receipt," Mr. Jones
As a result, Mr. Jayko’s 10-day suspension will be
rescinded with back pay and benefits, and the suspension will be
removed from his personnel file. Mr. Jones said 30 days of vacation
will be credited to Mr. Jayko for time he took off to pursue his
Don Schregardus, who was Ohio EPA director when
Mr. Jayko was reassigned away from the Marion investigation, said
yesterday he believes he made the right decision to suspend Mr.
Jayko in 1998.
Mr. Jones said he has no plans to seek
disciplinary action against the EPA supervisors in the Bowling Green
district whom Mr. Jayko said tried to "frame me and destroy my whole
"What we’re trying to do is move forward," Mr. Jones
Mr. Jayko said he hopes Marion residents will "feel a
sense of victory."
"Maybe we will never know all the causes
for the illnesses which struck those people. But I guarantee the
people of Marion that I will ‘leave no stone unturned,’ for them,"
Mr. Jayko said.
The River Valley school district has signed
an agreement with the state and federal governments to build middle
and high schools so the complex can be vacated. The new schools are
set to open in 2003.
Mike Griffith, a geologist and member of
an activist group that wants the children removed immediately from
the schools, congratulated Mr. Jayko.
"Paul took his job to
serve and protect the citizens of this state seriously, while his
bosses seemed to be more intent on protecting their image rather
than protecting the children," Mr. Griffith said.
Jayko acknowledged that the dispute is not over.
The Ohio EPA
will pursue an appeal it filed last month with a federal appeals
court in Cincinnati.
Last year, the state sued the federal
government, asserting that Ohio had constitutional protection -
referred to as "sovereign immunity" - that barred Mr. Jayko from
pursuing his case. The issue could end up before the U.S. Supreme