Employees who speak up and report illegal activity by an employer, known as whistleblowers, have been instrumental in exposing all sorts of alarming behavior, from discrimination and harassment to health and safety violations. However, by taking a stand, whistleblowers put themselves at of risk of retaliation by employers. Luckily, there is legal recourse available to victims of retaliation, which can even result in multimillion-dollar jury awards. This article offers a look at a few of the most noteworthy whistleblower cases.
Major Jury Award Against the City of Boston
A jury entered a verdict against the city of Boston and granted a significant award following a lawsuit for racial discrimination and retaliation. Chantal Charles, who is of African-American and Haitian ancestry, began working for the city of Boston in 1986. During the first years of her employment, Charles had management responsibilities and was offered a flexible schedule to accommodate for her children's school and daycare.
However, in the late 1990s, a government reorganization resulted in Charles reporting to a new supervisor, Vivian Leo, who forbid Charles from using her management title, denied her overtime pay, flexible hours, and transportation benefits received by her white co-workers. Leo reportedly referred to Charles as "aloof" and "uppity." Charles claims that after she filed a formal discrimination complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, Leo retaliated against her by issuing less-favorable job evaluations.
Charles filed a lawsuit for discrimination, and in 2015 a jury returned a verdict in her favor, awarding her $10.9 million in total damages – $10 million in punitive damages, $500,000 for emotional distress, and $389,000 in additional pay. After the lawsuit, Charles remained in her position working for the city.
Settlement of California Mental Health Center Retaliation Lawsuit
Delhi Mental Health Rehab Center, a mental health rehabilitation center in the Bay Area Central Valley agreed to pay $25,000 to settle a federal lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC charged that the center fired a male employee in retaliation for helping his female co-workers oppose sexual harassment occurring in the center.
The EEOC brought two separate lawsuits against the center. The first lawsuit, filed in 2006, claimed that a supervisor at the center subjected women to a barrage of crude sexual comments and unwanted touching over a period of five years. This lawsuit was settled in the amount of $145,000 on behalf of nine female employees.
The second lawsuit was brought by the EEOC on behalf of Audel Mendoza, the boyfriend (and now husband) of one of the women named in the first lawsuit, who spoke out against the sexual harassment. The center reportedly fired Mendoza just days after an EEOC investigator contacted the center to arrange an on-site inspection and arrange interviews of witnesses. According to the EEOC, this constituted retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as well as California state laws. In addition to monetary compensation, the settlement required the center to refrain from future retaliation against employees, to purge Mendoza's personnel file of any reference to either lawsuit, and to provide a neutral reference for him.
Fracking Equipment Company Sued for Retaliation
The EEOC also brought a federal lawsuit against Downhole Technology, the manufacturer of equipment used in hydraulic fracturing ("fracking"). The EEOC claimed Downhole violated federal law by retaliating against employee Kenneth Echols for reporting racially-based harassment by co-workers.
Echols reported that his co-workers used a white hood similar to those used by the Klu Klux Klan to harass and intimidate him. When Echols reported the behavior to his employer, rather than address his concerns, Downhole allegedly first reprimanded and then fired Echols. The EEOC filed its lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, asking the court to permanently enjoin Downhole from engaging in future discrimination or retaliation, and seeking punitive and compensatory damages, in addition to lost wages and benefits.
Whistleblower Fired for Exposing Unsafe Roofing Practices
The U.S. Department of Labor filed a lawsuit against Jasper Roofing Contractors, Inc. for firing its safety manager after he cooperated with a safety and health inspection by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, was the result of an investigation by OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program.
The lawsuit alleged that Jasper retaliated against the safety manager by firing him for providing OSHA with information about the company's safety compliance and for attempting to improve the safety culture at the company. "Employees have the right to participate in an Occupational Safety and Health inspection without the fear of retaliation," said Kurt Petermeyer, OSHA's Atlanta regional administrator. "OSHA will continue to hold companies accountable that violate the whistleblower provisions of the OSH Act."
Legal Help for Whistleblowers
The success of whistleblower and retaliation lawsuits varies significantly depending on the circumstances of the case. If you are the victim of illegal whistleblower retaliation, you should speak with an experienced whistleblower attorney to discuss your legal options.
Contact a qualified whistleblower law attorney to make sure your rights are protected.