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Ex-TSA supervisor fired in 2005 fighting back

John R. Arndt has been following the recent controversies involving the Transportation Security Administration and its passenger-screening policies more closely than most people.

Arndt is a former insider with the agency. He worked as a TSA screening supervisor for four years, overseeing the examinations of thousands of passengers each day at Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

The TSA fired Arndt in late 2005.

He claims he was fired because he complained about sexual harassment from a female boss and that because of his allegations some training records were falsified for TSA employees. He made other allegations of improper conduct by TSA management.

The federal government tells a different story. In court papers, the U.S. Attorney's Office portrays Arndt as a troublesome employee who was let go because he engaged in "harassing," "irresponsible" and "confrontational" workplace behavior.

"We're not going to address each one of Mr. Arndt's accusations individually," said Ann Davis, a spokeswoman for the agency. "TSA will not comment on the baseless accusations of a disgruntled former employee with a personal ax to grind."

Arndt, a 49-year-old Navy veteran, filed a federal lawsuit against the TSA after his firing, but U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara dismissed the suit last month. Arcara said the dismissal was not related to the merits of the lawsuit but was based on procedural errors. Arndt's attorney, Richard H. Wyssling, for more than two years failed to serve legal papers on the correct parties, the judge said.

Arndt is appealing, hoping to get the case reinstated.

"I just want my day in court. I want to put my case before a judge and a jury," he said in an interview. "I'm willing to take a polygraph exam on everything I have to say, and I'd like all the other TSA people involved to take one also."

He claims Buffalo TSA managers drummed him out of the agency because he had an affair with a high-ranking Buffalo TSA official and then broke off the affair. He said some managers were also upset because he kept raising questions about procedures and the actions of some TSA officials.

"From the time I became a whistle-blower and started raising questions, every time I raised an issue, the TSA treated me like I was some kind of a nut rather than looking into what I was asking about," Arndt said in his North Tonawanda home, where he has boxes of documents relating to his legal fight.

"I think highly of the people who work in the trenches for the TSA, but I have to say that some of the management people are not trustworthy," he said.

Among Arndt's allegations:

*He says that in late 2003, he had an affair with a woman who also was a supervisor at the TSA. He said he broke off the affair in May 2004 because he was about to get married. According to Arndt, the female supervisor repeatedly called him, seeking to resume the affair. He refused, and the supervisor was promoted to a position above him. He says she harassed him on the job and bad-mouthed him to other managers.

"I filed a complaint of sexual harassment, and the TSA investigator who interviewed me told me, 'Men don't get sexually harassed, be a real man,' " Arndt said.

*He says that although gambling while on the job is strictly prohibited by the TSA, two top management officials were openly involved in running a football pool at the airport. He said he reported the gambling to a TSA ombudsman in Washington, but nothing was done about it.

*He says a manager "assaulted" him by bumping against him in the workplace in July 2006 during an argument. A TSA investigation found that both Arndt and the manager were at fault.

*He says he tried to file a "hostile work environment" claim against the TSA but says the woman who had the affair with him stopped the complaint from going anywhere.

*He says that, after he became a TSA whistle-blower in 2005, all the letters of commendation he had received earlier in his career were removed from his personnel file. He showed a reporter several letters of commendation he received between 2003 and 2005.

*He says that in late 2003, a TSA manager allowed some pilots to go through an airport screening checkpoint without being checked for signs of possible alcohol abuse.

"At that time, we were checking pilots closely to see if they had alcohol on their breath or other signs that they had been drinking," Arndt said. "And we were finding about one [pilot] a month with alcohol on their breath, and we would refer them to the [Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority] police for further questioning."

When he complained to a manager about some pilots being allowed to circumvent the screening checkpoint, Arndt said, he was told to mind his own business. That was "pretty much the attitude" that TSA managers took toward any suggestions he made or questions he raised, Arndt said.

In Arndt's view, one of the most disturbing things he observed at the TSA was the falsifications of training records for more than 100 Buffalo TSA employees in May 2005.

According to documents Arndt showed The Buffalo News, each of the employees received credit for receiving 32 hours of training on a new high-technology X-ray device used to examine baggage.

"Everyone got credit for 32 hours of training, but I know that I got 16 hours of training, and so did the others who worked with me," Arndt said. "The people who did the training left Buffalo two days early so they could have a couple of days off before moving on to their next [training] session in another city."

The document Arndt showed The News indicated that he received 16 hours of training, while every other worker got 32 hours.

"They originally put me down for 32, but I insisted that they change it to the actual hours I got," Arndt said.

While the TSA essentially declined to comment on Arndt's allegations, government lawyers have detailed some of the TSA's responses in court papers filed in the federal lawsuit.

The TSA gave Arndt a "memorandum of counseling" in May 2005 because of his "unprofessional behavior while interacting with other TSA employees," according to court papers filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Pat Fleming.

Arndt was suspended for three days in October 2005 because of an incident in which he "disrupted" a training program that was being given by the woman who allegedly had the affair with Arndt, the court papers say. Later, according to court papers, Arndt was disciplined and ultimately fired for making "defamatory and irresponsible" statements about his alleged affair.

While several Buffalo TSA officials declined to comment on Arndt's allegations, one former co-worker defended Arndt.

"[Arndt] could be abrasive at times, and he sometimes took on issues that he should have left alone like the football pool," said the former co-worker, who spoke on the condition that he or she would not be identified. "But he was dedicated and a very hard worker. I never knew him to be anything but a truthful person. There are some [TSA Buffalo] employees who still wonder why he was ever let go."

Arndt spent 15 years in the Navy -- working mostly aboard submarines -- before retiring in 1998. After losing his TSA job in December 2005, he worked for a time with a lawn care company but is currently unemployed.

If his lawsuit is reinstated, he hopes a judge will eventually order the TSA to rehire him.

He said he believes the TSA has "a very important responsibility" of preventing terrorist acts aimed at Americans.

"The past five years have been very difficult . I have trouble sleeping," Arndt said. "You know, I joined the TSA after 9/1 1, because I had been in the Navy and wanted to serve my country again. I still want to go back and serve my country."

e-mail: dherbeck@buffnews.com