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Whistleblower with brain tumor sues DEA alleging 'disability discrimination' and retaliation

Eric Katz protested superior's decision to award a multi-million dollar government contract to firm tied to retired DEA official.

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The Department of Justice seal
The Department of Justice seal
(Brendan Smialowksi / Getty Images)
Updated: May 20, 2020 - 11:13am

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

A former supervisory special agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration is suing the Justice Department and DEA for forcing his early retirement from the agency in "retaliation" for whistleblower complaints he raised during his ongoing battle with a brain tumor.

In his complaint, Eric Katz describes a “hostile work environment, unauthorized sharing of medical information” as well as “disability discrimination” and workplace retaliation.

According to the complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, DEA violated the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 through “intentional manipulation of the Equal Employment Opportunity process, as it relates identification of and an accommodation of Mr. Katz’s disabilities, to maneuver Mr. Katz out of his position as lead on the Cellular Abductor Tracking System (CATS) and to force his retirement from the agency.”

The CATS program captures geo-positional data from cellular and other electronic devices within range of a DEA-issued device to help the agency "locate a kidnapped agent or resource."

In 2017, senior DEA management removed Cherokee Nation from CATS and “replaced it with a company that claimed to be an 8(a) contractor, but whose real asset seemed to be that had a former DEA senior management official at the helm,” according to the lawsuit.

Katz raised his concerns about the changes to the multi-million dollar contract internally at the DEA and with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

DEA declined immediate comment on the lawsuit. “As a matter of policy, DEA does not comment on ongoing litigation,” the press office wrote Just the News.

The lawsuit argues that the agency “sought to punish Mr. Katz for protesting the unlawful award of DEA contracts to former senior DEA officials, masquerading as Native American 8(a) contractors and reporting his concerns to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General.”

Katz went on medical leave due to his cancer diagnosis and received treatment at Duke Medical Center in North Carolina. He told Just the News that the DEA informed him during his treatment that he was being transferred to a position in Charlotte but he declined and revealed his cancer diagnosis for the first time. Katz explained that he wanted to be closer to Duke Medical Center.

The DEA eventually moved him into a DEA-sponsored position at Fort Bragg for “medical accommodation.”

Later, while Katz was working at Fort Bragg, a DEA supervisor made a surprise visit to Fort Bragg and “determined not only to move the CATS program” but to have Katz’s position reassigned to the local headquarters area in Arlington, Va., the lawsuit said.

A DEA official also shared Katz's private medical information with Compass Strategies Solutions, the subcontractor of the program, the suit stated.

“In violation of both the protected medical information prong of the Rehabilitation Act and the EEO guidelines concerning the interactive process, the DEA demanded, under threat, medical records related to Plaintiff,” the complaint said.