SAN FRANCISCO -- Jamie Fox went above, and according to her Oakland VA regional office superiors, too far beyond, when she tried to help a veteran who had been denied benefits.
Now Fox's four-year battle to prove she was wrongfully fired by the Oakland VA regional office brought her Tuesday morning to a federal courtroom, where she represented herself in a motion hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Elizabeth Laporte.
Fox's troubles with the VA began in May 2008, six months after she was hired as a veterans services representative. Assigned to review a denied disability claim filed by Navy veteran Hosea Roundtree, Fox did research on her own that she said merited reconsidering Roundtree's claim. The Oakland VA, which has been under fire for months because of its bloated backlog of unresolved disability claims, said in court documents that Fox failed to follow instructions in her handling of Roundtree's case and was dismissed as a result.
But in her lawsuit, Fox contends that she was let go because she supported a colleague who claims she was the target of harassment based on sexual orientation. Both women complained to supervisors. Both were terminated in June 2008. They requested Equal Employment Opportunity Commission hearings; in both cases, the VA's actions were upheld.
Fox said the Oakland VA is now citing her work on Roundtree's claim as a cover-up to obscure what she says is the real reason for her termination -- her claims of harassment on behalf of her colleague, Ann Williams. Fox is working toward a jury trial, which she said is tentatively scheduled for October 2013. Fox said she will be seeking back pay and a job commensurate to the one she had in Oakland.
"I believe a jury will see through the lies," she said, flanked by Roundtree and Williams outside the Federal Building in San Francisco. Williams, who previously served as mayor of Pinole, said she is also considering filing a lawsuit against the VA.
Attorney Victoria Carradero, representing the VA, referred questions to the U.S. Attorney's Office. Jack Gillund, spokesman for Northern District, said in an email that because "this is an ongoing trial, we have no comment."
Fox, who is now employed at a VA health care center in Santa Rosa, plans to continue representing herself despite the personal cost and a couple of gentle scoldings from Judge Laporte.
"You have to have money to get justice," she said. "I'm trying to do it the cheapest way possible."
In the meantime, Roundtree, who refiled his claim on Fox's advice, has yet to get a resolution from the VA. After Tuesday's hearing, Fox, Williams and Roundtree went to the office of Congresswoman Jackie Speier. Richard Steffens, Speier's district director, said staff members there would represent Roundtree in his claims process.
Contact Gary Peterson at 925-952-5053. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/garyscribe.