Embattled Navy Whistleblower Finally Receives a Promotion

By Bill Leonard Sep 21, 2007
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Lt. Jason Hudson’s faith in the U.S. Navy’s human resource policies has been restored.

Hudson, who had been embroiled in a whistleblower and reprisal controversy since 2002, received notification on July 26, 2007, that a review board had recommended approval of his promotion to lieutenant commander. Despite an exemplary record, he had been denied promotion once before after registering a complaint about a problematic recruiting directive.

Since Hudson had been passed over for promotion before, his whole career as a U.S. Naval officer was riding on the latest performance review. Had the review board made a different decision this time, Hudson would have had no choice but to resign his officer’s commission. But that was not a choice he was prepared to make.

“My goal has always been to continue my career in the U.S. Navy as a human resource officer,” said Hudson, who is a member of the Society for Human Resource Management and holds a certification as a Senior Professional in HR from the Human Resource Certification Institute. “So I am very happy with the board’s recommendations, and it has reaffirmed my belief that the system does work.”

Hudson’s troubles began in October 2002 when his superior officers devised a new recruiting strategy to change the way the U.S. Navy assessed and accepted minority candidates for active duty. The goal of the directive was to increase the number of minority candidates who scored above average on a battery of aptitude tests given to every military recruit.

However, Hudson says the recruiting policy went about achieving this objective in an odd way—by limiting the number of minority recruits with below-average scores. He objected to the directive, because, as it was written, recruiters would have to reject minority candidates who scored the same on the aptitude tests as white recruits. To Hudson, the whole thing smacked of racial bias and appeared to violate federal discrimination law.

He expressed his concerns to his commanding officer but was told to follow the policy as ordered. He then filed a complaint with a U.S. Navy equal opportunity adviser, the military’s equivalent of an investigator with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Three days after filing the complaint, Hudson was relieved from duty as head of enlisted recruiting in the Nashville, Tenn., district.

Within six weeks of Hudson’s initial complaint, the Navy rescinded the recruiting directive nationwide. The Navy’s Inspector General’s office later issued a statement that the recruiting policy was “legally indefensible.”

Even though the directive was obviously flawed, Hudson claims, he was punished for filing the complaint and going “outside the chain of command.” Two months after filing the complaint, Hudson received a sub-par rating on his annual performance review and was given what the Navy calls an “adverse fitness report.” Up until that point, Hudson had received nothing but the highest of fitness ratings possible.

U.S. Navy officials claim that Hudson was not singled out for his action. Lt. Justin Cole, a spokesperson for the naval chief of personnel, says Hudson was not the first officer to bring attention to the flawed recruiting policy.

“When Lt. Hudson filed his complaint, the matter had already been brought to the attention of the chain of command by another source, and the policy was already in the process of being changed,” Cole stated.

Although the Navy maintains that, after careful review of the case, there was no evidence of reprisal, the Department of Defense (DOD) released a new directive changing the military’s whistleblower policies just three days before Hudson was notified of his promotion.

One of the key revisions in the policy was to clarify the definition for “chain of command.” According to the new directive, all members of the armed forces will be protected under the whistleblower policy whenever they provide information to military investigators or government agencies, including Congress, about a reasonable suspicion of a violation of law or regulations.

While both Hudson and his attorney Ross Booher agree that the timing of the promotion and release of the DOD directive is most likely a coincidence, Booher believes Hudson’s case definitely had an impact on the DOD’s decision to strengthen its whistleblower protections.

“It is a real testament to Lt. Hudson’s courage and his strength as a leader that he earned this promotion and that the whistleblower policy was revised,” said Booher, an attorney with the Nashville law firm of Bass Berry and Sims. “It’s also a testament to the U.S. Navy that they recognized the problem and changed their policies to rectify the situation.”

Booher believes that Hudson’s actions and the changes to the HR policies will benefit every person serving in the U.S. military and allow them to do the right thing when confronted with questionable practices and policies.

Booher felt so strongly about Hudson’s case that he agreed to handle it on a pro bono basis. Hudson is very thankful to Booher and his law firm and says that he probably would have never been promoted without the free legal services offered to him. According to Booher, his law firm provided nearly 1,200 hours of work to help Hudson with his case.

“The generosity of the firm and the commitment to making sure I was treated fairly is really overwhelming,” Hudson said.

Hudson also credits the help of the media. For his latest performance review, he included a copy of an article that appeared Feb. 15 on SHRM Online and in the April 2007 issue of HR Magazine. Because Hudson is enrolled full-time in a master’s of business administration program at the University of Tennessee, the article about his whistle-blowing case was the only additional information provided to the promotion review board this year. He believes it made a difference.

“I can’t speak for the members of the review board and what they were thinking and the rationale they had for recommending me for promotion, but I believe the article did have an impact,” he said.

Hudson’s case also drew the attention of “60 Minutes,” after Booher sent copies of the article to the popular CBS news program. Several of the show’s staff members flew to Nashville and spent three days talking with Booher and Hudson and examining documents. According to Booher, the show’s staff interviewed an admiral at the Pentagon and Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn.

Cooper, who represents the Congressional District for Nashville and serves on the House Armed Services Committee, had sent letters to the U.S. Navy’s Inspector General’s office on behalf of Hudson. Cooper also has proposed several changes that would strengthen protections for military whistleblowers.

Hudson says that he is humbled by all the support he received. He’s now ready to continue his career in the U.S. Navy and in January 2008 will start his new assignment as officer-in-charge of a naval support group in Saratoga, N.Y. It will be his first command position, and he’s looking forward to the challenge.

“All I ever wanted was to do my job to the best of my ability,” he said. “This promotion and the new assignment give me the chance to do just that and to continue my development as an HR officer in the Navy. I am truly grateful for this opportunity.”

Bill Leonard is senior writer for HR News.

Related Articles:

Blowing Whistle on Navy Recruitment Policy Proves Costly

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