Administrative Law

Administrative judge's notes reportedly described claimants as 'gorilla-like' and 'buxom'

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An administrative law judge deciding Social Security disability claims included offensive physical descriptions of claimants in his hearing notes, according to a newspaper that received copies of the notes.

The administrative judge, John Pleuss, wrote in his notes that one claimant was “very black, African looking woman (actually a gorilla-like appearance),” according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Pleuss described another claimant as “young, white, female; long brown hair; attractive; looks innocent.” Others were deemed “buxom” or “obese” while another was said to be wearing a “skimpy black top.”

The newspaper spoke with people who worked in Pleuss’ office in Madison, Wisconsin, to verify that Pleuss had written the notes. The sources were anonymous except for whistleblower Machelle Keller, a lead case technician.

Pleuss has temporarily stopped hearing cases and the inspector general is investigating issues in the office. Pleuss worked in the Social Security Administration’s Office of Disability Adjudication and Review.

An armed security guard has been posted in the Madison office since June 20 to ensure safety there, the Journal Sentinel says, citing information from anonymous employees and Keller.

Pleuss’ comments were first reported by a conservative website called Wisconsin Watchdog.

Marilyn Zahm, president of the Association of Administrative Law Judges, told the Journal Sentinel that Pleuss can’t respond to interview requests. She said Pleuss should not have used such language, but he doesn’t discriminate against claimants.

Zahm said Pleuss’ interview notes were “shorthand descriptions” he used to jog his memory about the cases, and they had been taken out of context. Zahm has worked in the Peace Corps and for the Indiana Civil Rights Commission, she said.

“Judge Pleuss regrets ever writing these notes,” Zahm told the Journal Sentinel.

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