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Whistleblower settlement paid to Department of Labor employee

A recordkeeping official received a hefty settlement from an organization not usually involved in the pay-out side of employment disputes. The employee, who challenged his removal as a retaliation for his having acted as a whistleblower, received $820,000 from the Department of Labor, an agency which is usually found working on the side of a wronged employee rather than being accused of wrongdoing. The settlement otherwise has all of the other characteristics of similar claims that have been filed in Texas and elsewhere.

The employee began pointing out issues in the agency's inaccuracies in its reporting of numbers of work-related illnesses and injuries. These are figures that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) relies upon in order to target workplace inspections and pursue enforcement of worker safety laws. The employee expressed concern over the impossibly low numbers of incidents reported by his agency, inaccuracies which would seriously hamper the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's ability to do its job.

Following the classic train of events in such cases, the man continued to point out inaccuracies in his agency's workplace reporting and found himself in a progressively deteriorating situation in his own on-the-job environment. The first escalation was his supervisor lowering the grading on his performance review from "highly effective" down to "meets expectations," the first time the employee did not receive a rating of "outstanding" or "exceeds expectations" in over 30 years. The man continued pointing out examples of underreporting in the agency's workplace findings until he finally got into what he described as a "spitting match" with his supervisor. He was soon placed on administrative leave and eventually removed from his position.

The man responded by filing a claim alleging that his removal was retaliation for his whistleblowing activities. The parties settled for $820,000 days before a scheduled hearing. The implication for similar situations in Texas and elsewhere is that whistleblowing activities are not limited to only one side of the enforcement fence – they can take place wherever concerned and conscientious employees feel it is their duty to report their discoveries to the proper authorities. When a termination is shown to be the result of an employee having reported those discoveries, it can qualify as a wrongful discharge and is subject to falling under the jurisdiction of federal whistleblower laws.

Source: mondaq.com, "DoL (Yes, The DoL!) Pays Big Settlement In Whistleblower Case," Steven J. Pearlman, July 6, 2013

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