Man fired from NMCSD claims it was in retaliation for whistleblowing efforts

Leroy Worrell says he uncovered timesheet fraud
Posted at 8:39 PM, May 11, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-11 23:39:48-04

Leroy Worrell sat at his kitchen table surrounded by four thick binders filled with documents.  He believes the documents are proof he lost his job for blowing the whistle on timesheet fraud in the Dermatology Department at Naval Medical Center San Diego.

In the next room, his mother watched Worrell's 1-year old daughter, Aria. 

He said he needs his salary to take care of them, as well as his fiancee and two half-brothers who he is sponsoring when they emigrate from the Philippines to the United States later this year.

Worrell is third generation Navy.  He was born in the Philippines but raised by his grandmother in New Jersey. A few years ago he was able to save enough money to bring his mother to the U.S.

9-11 inspired Worrell to enlist in the Navy.   He served as a medic in Kuwait, and when his tour of duty was over, Worrell decided to make San Diego his home.

10 days later, he was hired by NMCSD to work as a dermatology technician.  Worrell loved working with patients and his reviews reflected that.  The most recent one states, "Mr. Worrell provides excellent care to patients, and has shown to be very supportive of their needs."

The report wasn't all positive. In the section labeled interpersonal skills and teamwork it reads:

"Mr. Worrell has shown to be a hard worker, but lacks the interpersonal skills to get along with several members within the department."

Worrell's problems began in 2014

Internal NMCSD documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show in December 2014 the nurse manager confronted Worrell about tardiness, claiming he falsified his time sheet, signing in at 8:05 a.m. when his actual arrival time was 8:30.  A letter dated March 18, 2015 states "Worrell claims that other employees have falsified their arrival time on the sign-in sheet".  She went on to say "To my knowledge, no other employee arrives consistently late and falsifies the sign-in sheet."

Worrell begs to differ.  He told Team 10 that same manager looked the other way when other employees were late. 

"It's not fair," he said.

In 2015, Worrell says he wrote 8 a.m. on his timesheet, even though he admits it was 8:09 a.m.  His supervisor made him change the time to 8:15, something Worrell says was never asked of other tardy employees. 

Worrell began to monitor the comings and goings of employees in the department.  He gave Team 10 a list that showed between February and late August of  2015, three other employees had either not signed in, not signed out, or had other people forge their names on the sign-in sheet.  He claims those people were never disciplined.

"People were skipping lines when they signed in," said Worrell.  He explained they did so to create the appearance that friends who were running late had actually arrived on time.  If one employee arrived at 8 am left a line open on the sign-in sheet above their name then the person who was late might be able to add his or her name and write 7:59 a.m.

Worrell claims he also found signatures that didn't match and even some names on the sign-in sheet that were misspelled.

"When I brought that to my chain of command they said we'll take care of it," Worrell recalled. 

He said he felt relieved, believing he would no longer be singled-out.

Worrell filed a grievance against the department, which he said made matters worse.  A representative of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 3723 told Team 10 he wasn't the first employee in that department to complain about favoritism in the dermatology department.  Andrea Ivey said Worrell was the only one to face retaliation for making that claim.

After the grievance, things got worse for Worrell

Worrell's grievance was granted because the supervisor who had written him up for being late was not the appropriate person to discipline him.  However, the grievance decision states:

"While your allegations were clear, you provided no information or evidence to support them.

Worrell used the Freedom of Information Act to request copies of all timesheets.  He claims he has never received them, and that he was told they'd been "lost".

Worrell said the target on his back got bigger.

Several of the memorandums obtained by 10News are critical of Worrell's activities.  The names of the authors were redacted by the navy due to privacy issues.  The subject line of one of them is "Enough is enough."

 "You have a hostile work environment being created by one person," The note criticizes department leadership for not doing enough to "stop the insanity that is Leroy."

The same supervisor who wrote him up for being late filed for a restraining order against Worrell.  Team 10 found court documents that state Worrell "made fists and kicked a trash can as I walked by".  She also wrote "I have filed a complaint with my nurses union for a (sic) unsafe environment."  She also wrote: "I became aware that he was entering my office unauthorized during clinic hours and on weekends by obtaining the master key from an office he has access to."

The restraining order was not granted after both parties agreed to mediation, but the woman who filed the claim did not attend.  She later dismissed the case.

The final straw

Worrell wasn't the only employee in the dermatology department that thought he was being singled out.  Team 10 contacted an employee who did not want to be identified. That employee said it was obvious Worrell was targeted by a supervisor who didn't like him.  That employee said the supervisor appeared to favor some employees over others, and that others appeared to get away with coming in late on a regular basis.  The employee said things have changed, now the department is "extremely accountable". When asked about Worrell's work habits, the employee said he was always "beyond helpful".

That kind of support didn't help Worrell. In July of 2016, his security clearance was blocked.  Worrell was told he could no longer use the medical center's computers.

Within days, he was accused of accessing another employee's computer without her knowledge. Worrell claims he was retrieving a post-it note and he did not touch the computer.

Worrell was placed on administrative leave with pay pending the outcome of the investigation. That paid leave lasted nine months.

In November, Worrell was notified that the NMCSD intended to fire him for unacceptable conduct.  That conduct was the use of a computer he was not supposed to have access to.

Worrell continued to fight, sending emails that said he was being treated unfairly and that his department had retaliated against him. 

"My character has been severely damaged by the false allegations," he wrote.

Changing the story

In February the evidence against Worrell changed.  The two co-workers who claimed in writing they saw Worrell use a computer without authorization now claimed in written documents that they saw Worrell click the mouse to print something.  No mention of printing was made in previous testimony.  Worrell says that's proof they're making things up about him. His union representative agreed.

“Do I  believe Leroy?" asked Andrea Ivey.  "I believe Leroy wholeheartedly... I could swear on a stack of bibles that Leroy did not do anything inappropriate.I truly believe that Mr. Worrell is being wrongfully removed and this is one of those cases that really is based on something he did which is pointing out waste, fraud and abuse.”

Worrell is appealing his dismissal.  He had this message for those who forced him out of the job he loved: 

“How can you sleep at night knowing that you let something like this get away? And you let taxpayers money go to waste for fraud? That’s not right.”

Team 10 reached out to NMCSD for comment, a spokesman sent the following email:

"In order to protect Mr. Worrell's privacy rights and to avoid compromising
the integrity of any current or future actions Mr. Worrell might pursue, we
cannot discuss his case publicly.  While an employee may decide to bring
administrative and personal matters into the public light, we are required
to adhere to strict information release guidelines as a federal

In a separate email, Public Information Officer Mike Alvarez offered this statement:

"We take seriously our sacred duty of providing our patients the best
possible care our nation has to offer and are committed to being good
stewards of the resources entrusted to us by the public. We encourage our
staff to use available venues through which an employee can address
instances in which it is believed that fraud, waste or abuse may be taking
place, or where anyone is not being treated with fairness and respect,
without fear of retaliation. We hold ourselves to the highest standards of
professional conduct and investigate allegations of behavior that runs
counter to our commitment to our patients, the responsible management of
resources, and the respect of all staff members."