Pretrial documents filed in a suit brought by a Texas employe of the Agriculture Department suggest that Washington officials collaborated in a plan to force him to retire in retaliation for his disclosure of a superior's sexual misconduct.
Documents on file in the U.S. District Court case of J.P. Jones also indicate that USDA officials agreed they would be subject to reprisal charges and that Jones "may have good grounds for personal lawsuits" for his precipitous transfer from Texas.
Jones was moved to Washington after he charged that Wayne Mayfield, state executive director of the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service, had sexually harassed female employes of the agency. Mayfield denied the charges, but a USDA investigation upheld them and Mayfield later was suspended 30 days.
Trial of Jones' civil rights case, in which he accuses USDA of unlawful reprisals, is scheduled to begin this week and to last as long as three weeks. He seeks reinstatement to his $55,600-a-year job as an official in the Texas ASCS office. Jones failed to win a preliminary injunction in January from U.S. District Court Judge John H. Pratt that would have returned him to Texas.
Jones sued last year after he was given six days' notice in late 1984 to report here for a new assignment at ASCS headquarters. One agency document speculated that Jones, then 62, with a severely disabled son at home, would quit rather than take the Washington job.
Jones, however, reported to USDA as ordered. He said last year that he had been given a "make-work" job and that he received frequent threatening phone calls. One pretrial document indicated that the calls were traced to the phone of a USDA employe assigned to investigate Jones' complaints.
In its response, the government has attempted to portray Jones as an ineffective administrator with good Republican political connections who had to be removed so the ASCS office in College Station could function smoothly.
A brief filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Linda A. Halpern called Jones "an incompetent rumormonger" who had resorted to "desperate and bizarre efforts . . . to save his career." Her brief also contended that the Texas office was "finally back on track" with removal of "Jones' rumor mill."
Despite the government's assertions, Jones regularly received satisfactory performance ratings since he joined the ASCS in 1969. Among those who gave him satisfactory ratings was Mayfield. Jones' attorney, Andrew L. Lipps, noted that his client would not have been promoted to a job in Washington if his competence was in question.
In denying Jones' request for a preliminary injunction in January, Pratt, who will preside over the trial, described the disagreements between Jones and Mayfield as a "mudslinging contest" that was "permeated with political consideration."
Testimony elicited by attorney Lipps in depositions and USDA documents filed in the case indicate that Washington officials of the department worked closely with Jones' foes in Texas to force him out of College Station.
The documents reveal that Texas officials drew up a plan to fire Jones for alleged poor performance, but reversed field when they learned the investigation was not exonerating Mayfield, as they had expected. Consultations with ASCS executives in Washington led to the transfer plan.
Mayfield's telephone logs, part of the evidence gathered by Lipps, showed that he was in regular contact with officials here during the sexual harassment investigation.