UC Davis Whistleblower Tells Her Story Trying to Help Empower Others Suffering the Same Fate

block-joy-1

Last week at the Davis Avid Reader, Amy Block Joy spoke publicly about her four-year-long ordeal, having reported malfeasance in her own department at UC Davis and the treatment she received from her colleagues and the university as a whole.

As she told the audience, she became a Whistleblower in August of 2006, and was asked to be silent while the investigation was taking place.  As a result of that isolation, she wrote a book about her experiences.

In the words in the forward, she wrote, “Whistleblower is my personal account of the discovery and reporting of crime.”  She added, “I wrote this book to educate furture whistleblowers, especially those in university settings.  My advice: persist, be vigilant, and know that an individual can make a difference.”

The Vanguard covered her story back in June 2010, now her book has just been published and she spoke about that book last week at the Davis Avid Reader.  (You can purchase her book there and the Vanguard will receive a small portion of the proceeds – Whistleblower).

The most difficult part of the whole ordeal seems to have been the isolation that she had to cope with as the result of being asked to be quiet about the investigation.  The book would be her coping mechanism.

“The book began as a way to cope with isolation,” Amy Block Joy told the Vanguard in a separate interview this week.  “After I blew the whistle I was warned not to talk about the investigation to anyone.  This was repeated to me on many occasions and by many folks throughout the process.  I found that writing became my way of  ‘talking.’ “

She remains employed at UC Davis to this very day, though she has been moved to a new department specifically designed only for her.  She generally feels that the university has done right by her, and her criticism may be toward the treatment by some of her colleagues.

As she told the Vanguard, “Not having people to talk to or even communicate with was disturbing and cruel.  I did believe that if the people really knew what had happened they would support me—so I focused on doing the best job I could.”

block-joy-2More generally she said, “It’s very important for a whistleblower—or anyone who is put in a position where they are told to keep quiet—to have a support system and people to talk to.  I believe that there should be always be a support system offered to whistleblowers.”

Amy Block Joy filed her complaint in September 2007 and a subsequent investigation by the university verified many of her allegations.  These included activities of another employee over a 6-year period. 

The employee pled guilty in 2008 to theft in 2008, admitting to spending federal funds on hundreds of items.  Remarkably, the employee was only sentenced to a year in prison and ordered to pay government restitution of $128,681.80.

It was the reaction to her complaint that first drew problems for Dr. Block Joy.

According to her complaint, “People told others she was mentally ill; at a conference, it was falsely announced that she had left the university; mail was taken from her mailbox, torn, and pictures were drawn on it; she was shoved; she was not invited to meetings and people did not reply to her emails, even though she was director of the program; her car was ‘keyed’ in the parking lot; employees sitting next to her wouldn’t speak, even when she addressed them warmly.”

Back in June, Amy Block Joy told the Vanguard that she discovered the embezzlement in March of 2006 and confronted the female employee at that time.  However she said, “Because my reporting it through the usual channels didn’t work, I filed a whistleblower report in August 2006.”

While she believes others knew about the fraud, as was reported by auditors and also explained in a 2007 Sacramento Bee article, she knew little about the investigation.

“UC Davis had a lot of internal controls at the time.  The reason I believe it was good to blow the whistle is because there are loop holes and ways around the institutional controls,” she told the Vanguard.  “This is true for all organizations. However, the investigation allowed the university to make adjustments and improvements.”

Writing was her escape from this.

She told the Vanguard this week, “Writing was very empowering.  I wrote about every experience during the process and re-visited all my emails (over 100,000 of them) to try to find clues.  I kept asking myself—did I miss something?  When the harassment reached an intolerable level the university recognized this and asked me to stay away from the campus.  I was given a four-month “no-fault” administrative leave.”

She also took solace from people like Daniel Ellsberg, of the notorious Pentagon Papers fame, who had experienced a lot of the same reactions on a much broader scale. 

Daniel Ellsberg clearly took to her case, even writing a small testimonial, “In Amy Joy’s courageous search for a moral compass one victory transcends – Truth comes first!  Whistleblower poignantly illuminates the dark for future truth-tellers.”

According to Amy Block Joy, Daniel Ellsberg, during her struggles, advised her “that this isn’t an experience that one bounces back from…” and “you’ll need to find new friends and build a new life.” 

She said she wrote much of this book in 2008, where she took the notes that she had written and developed them into a book chapter.  She would then submit it to a writer’s conference in Taos, New Mexico.

“During my 2008 July vacation, I went to Taos and met my editor, Alan Rinzler.  I wrote and he edited a chapter a month,” she said.  “Writing this book was highly motivating and kept me moving forward.”

“The book also inspired me,” she continued.  “I wanted to understand what happened and why it happened, with the purpose of educating future whistleblowers on the nitty gritty details of the experience.”

Moreover it was about completing the journey and then moving on.

She said, “In the end, I wanted to reach a conclusion and then “close the book on this chapter of my life”.  I wanted my book to tell the next whistleblower—it’s very difficult and painful—but in the end you’ll be glad you blew the whistle!”

The question one always asks is what they would do differently, having learned through life experience something rather extraordinary.

For Amy Block Joy, it may be a lesson in cynicism and skepticism.

“In the end, my optimistic view that the majority of people are basically ethical, moral and have integrity may have made me more prone to being manipulated,” she told the Vanguard. ‘I think I assumed too many good things about people that turned out to be wrong.”

She related a story in which, even after blowing the whistle, she again trusted the wrong person. 

“This was someone I had admired for decades and I thought was supporting my efforts to fight poverty,” Amy Block Joy told the Vanguard.  “I still wonder why this particular individual chose to retaliate, spread malicious gossip about me and smear my name.”

Dr. Block Joy argues however, that the result of her complaint was that she had been retaliated against precisely because she blew the whistle.  She believes that the system worked for her, despite her hardships along the way and that the university did a very good job of investigating her complaint.

“The system worked—although it was a very long and lonely journey to get to the end of the road—and then, of course, one is faced with the horrible things that people said and did.  But the best way to deal with this is just to let it go and move on,” she told the Vanguard.

The value of sharing such experiences is that it helps empower others in her place to take action rather than to sit by fearing retaliation.

“Now that I’m speaking publicly about my book, people are feeling more comfortable talking about this issue,” she told the Vanguard.  “Many are telling me about things that happen at work that they were afraid to report.”

Amy Block Joy said that people need to learn how their organization operates toward whistleblowers.

“The reason organizations have tutorials is to make sure that everyone is aware of what is expected by the organization.  Don’t skip the tutorials—in fact, read them carefully,” she said.

Moreover, people need to recognize the warning signs and not ignore them.  Specifically said, “If you find yourself experiencing any of the following signs: thinking about something that happened at work much more than you want to; feeling uncomfortable about it and trying to not think about it; and finding excuses, explanations or even becoming angry about something, this may be the first internal clue that you are aware of wrong-doing.”

Once an individual identifies a problem, they need to find the right person to talk to, clearly someone they trust.

“UC Davis has policies that provide guidance on what to do,” she said.  “In fact, there are a number of ways to make reports and many are confidential.  It is very important that you trust the person that you confide in.”

Most importantly she added, “Never, and let me emphasis this, never turn your back on it.”

But whistleblowing comes with a huge price that people are often not willing to pay.  Amy Block Joy is one of the more fortunate cases, as she found the right people at the upper levels and once they completed their investigation, they did right by her and put her into a new position where she was protected.

Others are not so fortunate.

As she told the Vanguard, “Right now, most people believe that if you use the whistleblower route to reporting misuse you will lose your job.  Statistics seem to show that.  It was very important to me both personally and professionally to keep my job so that I wouldn’t become one of those statistics.”

She was determined to keep her job.  That was her clear goal. 

“I want people to know that you can be a whistleblower and stay employed with a good job.  I did,” she said.

Last summer Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill authored by Senator Leland Yee that closes loopholes from a July 2008 California Supreme Court ruling that prevented UC employees who are retaliated against because they report wrongdoing from suing for damages under the state’s Whistleblower Protection Act, so long as the University itself reviews the complaints in a timely fashion, regardless of their findings.

Under the new law, UC faculty and workers who report illegal or improper actions from retaliation in the workplace will have the same rights as other employees.

“This is the classic case of the fox guarding the hen house,” said Senator Leland Yee.  “UC executives should not be judge and jury on whether or not they are liable for monetary claims.  Finally, we are able to close this legal loophole and restore some dignity for UC whistleblowers and integrity to the system.”

Fortunately, such retaliation did not go unchecked in Amy Block Joy’s situation.  The University in this case has acknowledged that retaliation occurred and has taken steps to rectify the situation. 

“The university takes all allegations of retaliation, including whistleblower retaliation, very seriously and investigates them diligently,” Claudia Morain, News Service Director at UC Davis said in a statement to the Vanguard last summer.

“In this instance, a university investigation determined that Dr. Block Joy was retaliated against for her whistleblower complaint concerning fraud and misuse in the Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program,” Ms. Morain continued. “Administrative action was taken in response to this substantiated allegation of retaliation.  We’re pleased that we were able to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement with Dr. Block Joy.”

As they say, if you want to know the rest of the story, read the book.  You can order the book here and , again, the Vanguard will also get a small portion of the proceeds – Whistleblower.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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9 thoughts on “UC Davis Whistleblower Tells Her Story Trying to Help Empower Others Suffering the Same Fate”

  1. E Roberts Musser

    dmg: “According to her complaint, “People told others she was mentally ill; at a conference, it was falsely announced that she had left the university; mail was taken from her mailbox, torn, and pictures were drawn on it; she was shoved; she was not invited to meetings and people did not reply to her emails, even though she was director of the program; her car was ‘keyed’ in the parking lot; employees sitting next to her wouldn’t speak, even when she addressed them warmly.””

    This sort of thing can happen in any setting. Many years ago, I was an 8th grade Math teacher in the public school system near Baltimore, MD. The teachers decided to go out on strike for more pay, but I chose to honor my contract – in which I had promised not to ever walk off the job w/o sufficient notice – so continued to work. I had my car pounded on and I was cussed at and spit on while crossing the picket line; the air was let out of my tires; students of the striking teachers were told by them to misbehave as much as possible while in school during the strike; I was given the “silent treatment” by the striking teachers once the strike was over; and I was summarily demoted from my team leader position by my fellow co-workers.

    After the strike ended and I was subjected to more of the silent treatment, gossip and taunting, then my students began “standing up for me”, by defying the other teachers who were treating me badly. Because the students felt impelled to intervene in what was not their battle to fight, I finally went to the principal of the school. I told him I would have to file a formal complaint w the Supt. of Schools if he didn’t do something about the retaliatory behavior of the other teachers on my team in particular; students were now getting involved in the retaliatory mess; and I had done absolutely nothing wrong. The principal agreed, and gave the message to the other teachers to tone it down. So then all I received was the “silent treatment” from most teachers. The teachers I really cared about still spoke w me and remained friends. As it turned out, I moved on the next year and began teaching math in junior college and became pregnant w my first child – so it all worked out.

    But I think what surprised me is how vicious, spiteful and childish people can become in a charged situation when they don’t agree w you/want to somehow “punish” you for not agreeing w them. Out of all the teachers in the school, there were only five of us who chose to honor our contracts and not strike. We all were subjected to malicious behavior that was completely pointless – it achieved nothing. Carrie Fisher has a great quote that goes something like this – “Revenge is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”

    Many years later, when I was a systems analyst for a defense contractor, I blew the whistle on a fellow co-worker who was refusing to verify the accuracy of his data as he was required to do. I was the analyst expected to analyze that questionable data, and as anyone knows GIGO – garbage in, garbage out. I was not willing to put out an analysis report with corrupted data, that could result in the development of a faulty weapons system that could have killed innocent soldiers. Fortunately I had wonderful bosses, who called my co-worker on the carpet for his misbehavior – and I was given a big fat raise! What a difference!

    Ultimately however, if you see serious wrongdoing in the workplace and need to decide whether to report it, know that you have to face yourself in the mirror in the morning. “To thine own self be true.” I have no regret in either case, and would do the same thing all over again…

  2. Roger Rabbit

    The old saying “No one likes a whistle blower except the press” holds true. Our system of lawyers where people are paid to confuse the truth, to mislead and change the truth with laws has corrupted our society. It is accepted that our leaders/politicians lie and hide the truth.

    It is always easier to look the other way, to keep your mouth shut, to be a good team player and keep your job, your security and circle of friends. But people that do this, then you will be like plutonium, no ones wants to be next you, no one wants to appear loyal to you, bosses like people that dislike their enemies, so unless you know someone close who has gone through this or gone through it yourself, it is hard to imagine what goes on.

    Good for her, too many justify hiding so they can avoid doing the right thing. This should not be the exception, it should be the norm. Unfortunately, the norm is be a company man and look out for yourself.

  3. roger bockrath

    Elaine, Thank you for sharing your personal story about retaliation. I’m sure that many Vanguard readers and com mentors share similar experiences. That human interest aspect is what makes this blog site so interesting and informative!

  4. David Thompson

    Thanks to the Vanguard for alerting me to the talk by Amy Block Joy. I attended, as did a large number of others. Her talk was enlightening as to what happens to whistle blowers. I bought her book and read it in just a few days. It is well written and people should buy one.

    I certainly feel a lot of the same cicumstances since I blew the whistle on city staff for the Wildhorse affordable 52 for sale homes disaster. If City staff had put the right documents in place the City would have shared in $10 million of gain. Regretfully,we did not.

    Just last week City staff recommended that a Sacramento entity get $270,000 in public funds to sell off the 20 DACHA homes. That is after the argument being made that NP was paid to much for developing the 20 homes over five years and receiving $140,000 for all that work.

    Too much wrong has gone on with millions of public dollars by the housing staff and the City should be acting to put an end to it.

    More whistle blowers are needed.

    David Thompson, Twin Pines Cooperative Foundation

  5. E Roberts Musser

    rb: “Elaine, Thank you for sharing your personal story about retaliation. I’m sure that many Vanguard readers and com mentors share similar experiences. That human interest aspect is what makes this blog site so interesting and informative!”

    I suspect those in the workplace have experienced many of these sorts of retaliatory incidents. I have had clients who have, my own brother has. It is important to share this information, IMHO, bc it gives courage to the next whistleblower to do the right thing and not be cowed into submission through retalition.

    I just watched a special on television about the Innocence Project. It was interesting to see that those who had been unjustly incarcerated and later exonerated were actually not only fighting for the rights of others who have been, are, or will be exonerated, they were also fighting for the rights of prisoners inside the prisons! It is important to stand up and be counted when it matters…

  6. Jaroslaw1980

    Interesting story. However, retaliation against complainers is a integrated part of UC Policies and philosophy protecting UC management from prosecution of wrongdoing regardless of the crime , directors , managers , supervisors were committed . The UC Davis Principle of Community which is not the official UC Policy I am viewing as Principles of UC Davis neo -communists or neo- fascists base on my experiences with similar manifestos in communist country I lived for 30 years. UC Davis management using this manifesto to prosecute complaining employees about the management wrongdoing . I have lot of examples using this UC Davis Communist Manifesto against employees. Currently I am representing three my coworkers (non -union shop) in their complaints against vicious and ruthless management from UC Davis Medical Center Plant Operation and Maintenance Department. My self I am not been allowed to enter UCDMC premises and be represent my coworkers. I had been placed on Investigatory Leave under false pretenses since December 22, 2011 and since than I am babysitting my dog Oddie for $ 6000.00/month paid to me by University
    ********************************************************************
    To Whom It My Concern :

    Dear Sir Or Madam:

    Since May 2011 you are receiving my letters in regards the situation in UC Davis Medical Center Plant Operation and Maintenance Department in relation to my employment with UCDMC .
    I am perfectly aware that many of you who receiving my letters do not appreciate my action and sometimes feel uncomfortable to read the letters .
    It is not my intention to annoy or offend anybody by my letters but the e-mail and multi recipients of my letters is the only my tool at this point to convince the UCDMC PO&M and HR Department to stop vicious assault on me a let me return to work after almost six months of administrative and Investigatory Leave.
    I am aware that some of you calling HR and PO&M Department with complaint about receiving my letters . I am hoping that more calls with complains will force the UCDMC Management to take action and resolve the issues with my 12 years employment with UC and than you will not get any more correspondence from me .
    In my today’s letter which I am sending out, I am asking UC President Mr. Mark Yudof to intervene in this case and stop further attacks on me and my coworkers.

    I wrote : By this Letter I am appealing to University of California President Mr. Mark Yudov who is a Jew and the Law Professor of the Constitutional Law to take proper action and stop this like holocaust ongoing workers hunt in the UC Davis Medical Center not only for last year but for the last 12 years of my employment with UC Davis Medical Center .

    I believe that UC President Mr. Mark Yudof is familiar with history and words of the famous Protestant German Pastor Martin Niemoller .
    I am dedicating his words to all of you who likes and dislike my correspondence .
    First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
    Because I was not a Socialist.
    Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–
    Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
    Because I was not a Jew.

    Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

    Best Regards

    Jaroslaw Waszczuk
    Associate Development Engineer
    UC Davis Medical Center
    http://youtu.be/NQgyteSZ0jQ;http://youtu.be/tfqk4SYsmBY

  7. Jaroslaw1980

    Jaroslaw “Jerry “Waszczuk
    Associate Development Engineer
    UC Davis Medical Center
    PO&M Dept. – HVAC Shop
    Phone: 734-8015
    E-mail: Access Denied by Charles Witcher

    Home Address:

    Swallow Lane
    Lodi, CA 95240
    Phone 209-339-1982/Cell: 209-663-2977
    Fax: 209-247-1089
    E-Mail: ucdmclaborchat@comcast.net

    Via Fax /E Mail

    September 9, 2012

    Brent Seifert – Supervisor
    Principal Labor Relation Consultant
    UC DAVIS HEALTH SYSTEM
    Human Resources & Risk Management
    2730 Stockton Boulevard
    Sacramento, CA 95817

    RE: INVESTIGATION STATUS

    Dear Mr. Seifert:

    By this letter I am requesting that you provide me with information on what the status of the phony investigation you have been conducting since May 31, 2012. I am not sure if you remember that you have been assigned to investigate to determine the facts surrounding the e-mails I supposedly sent, and believed to contain discriminatory content and to collect relevant information. (See attached copy of Charles Witcher’s letter dated May 31, 2012 entitled “Investigatory Leave”).

    I am more than sure that the Charles Witcher’s “Investigatory Leave” letter dated May 31, 2012 was the precisely crafted provocation by the Human Resources with probable help with the UC Super Agent from UC Office of the President Mr. John Lohse and HR Psychologists from UCDMC ASAP club.
    Mr. John Lohse belong to same club as the UCDMC $ 10,000.00 pay raise and few give away roosters Investigator, Danesha Nichols .
    Unexpectedly the UC Super Agent Mr. Lohse has contacted me shortly before my suspension in May 2012.

    In my letter dated May 14, 2012 I wrote to Mr. Lohse.

    When I read it on the Association of Workplace Investigators Web Page than I chocked and I said to myself . This guy with such impressive background career and connections is a perfect guy to frame me.

    “John A. Lohse is the Director of Investigations in the Office of the Senior Vice President and Chief Compliance and Audit Officer of the Regents of the University of California. He is responsible for coordinating, tracking, managing and conducting investigations at the Office of the President and system-wide. Mr. Lohse came to the University of California in January 2004 after a career with the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), where he served as a Special Agent, Associate Division Counsel and Chief Division Counsel for the FBI’s San Francisco Division. In addition, the United States Attorney for the Northern District of California appointed Mr. Lohse as a Special Assistant United States Attorney. Prior to his service with the FBI, he was a criminal prosecutor with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office in Phoenix, Arizona. Mr. Lohse is a member of the State Bars of California and Arizona. He is also a Private Investigator, licensed by the State of California. He currently is a Director of AWI.”

  8. Jaroslaw1980

    The May 31 , 2012 provocation has followed the Witcher’s and HR’s cowardly and ill crafted action placing me on ten days suspension with out pay after Danesha Nichols phony investigation and my five months administrative/investigatory leave.
    It is not coincident that super UC agent Mr. Lohse got involved to help cover up the UC Davis and UC Davis Medical Center management’s corrupted and unlawful activities which are happening in every pointed place and involving UC Davis Chiefs and Indians including not limited to HR Chief Stephen Chilcott , UC Investigators Danesha Nichols , Gina Guillaume-Holleman and her boss Teresa Porter , Internal Audits Chief and UC Davis Police Officers like Lt. James Barbour who gave me once special advise with former US President Ronal Reagan quote about US Marines. The UC Davis Chief Compliance Officer Mrs. Wendy Delmendo who needs another Chief compliance officer to place herself into compliance with state and federal law and UC Policies is leading the pack of “Chiefs and Indians” corrupted circle .

    The May 31, 2012 precisely and ill crafted provocation had one goal:
    Make Jerry Waszczuk mad ,hostile and make him snap by handling him the another Investigatory Leave letter and launch another phony investigation against him . If he will snap and get hostile than Lt. Barbour will take care of him and he will be done.

    What a mistake . Jerry Waszczuk never was hostile and never snapped . Jerry Waszczuk using his pen and computer to defend himself and others abused and harassed by vicious , vindictive and criminally minded and corrupted UCDMC Chiefs .

    Almost three and one-half months have passed by since we met in HR Tycon II building. We did not have to much talk about because you was completely unprepared for the meeting because you did not expect that I will ever get to your office after Witcher’s executed the Investigatory Letter which should end the issue with Jerry Waszczuk .

    Our improvised by you meeting was about country of Romania, Romanians, and the Reggae. I have summarized the meeting in my letter I wrote to you day after we met and is no need to elaborate further about it.

    Reason I am writing to you is to find out what is the status of this “after unsuccessful provocation” phony investigation you had been set up for by the corrupted upper circle UCDMC Chiefs.

    After nine months of administrative/investigatory leave and since May 31, 2012, I am receiving the same notification from Charles Witcher which states:

    August 16, 2012
    Jaroslaw Waszczuk 524 Swallow Lane Lodi, CA 95240
    Re: Investigatory Leave
    This letter is to confirm that your investigatory leave is being extended from August 16, 2012 through September 28, 2012. You are hereby relieved from all work duties for the duration of this investigation. This will allow additional time to determine the facts surrounding e-mails you sent believed to contain discriminatory content and to collect relevant information. You will remain on pay status during this time.
    During this leave, you will not be allowed to have access to the work place. You are to remain available during business hours should we require your participation in this investigation.
    Please contact me if you have any questions.
    Charles Witcher, Manager
    Plant Operations & Maintenance.

    It is funny and worth mentioning that in this “Jerry Waszczuk persona non grata on the UCDMC premises” , that Charles Witcher forgot twice to send me the notification which would extend the Investigatory leave or let me go back to work and I had to remind him about the end off my “home arrest” period.

    Sincerely,

    Jaroslaw Waszczuk

    CC: To Whom It My Concern.

    Enclosure:

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