June 7, 2013
A former Labor Department employee has accepted an $820,000 settlement from the federal government after being fired for blowing the whistle on poor agency practices, according to a public-sector employee advocacy group.
Richard Whitmore worked for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for more than 20 years as the agency’s top recordkeeping official before speaking out on significant underreporting of workplace illnesses and injuries. OSHA placed Whitmore on paid administrative leave for two years before ultimately terminating his job in 2009, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
Whitmore’s settlement comes one year after a federal appeals court found evidence OSHA managers conspired against Whitmore in retaliation for embarrassing the agency. The appellate court sent the case back to the Merit Systems Protection Board, stating the independent, quasi-judicial agency’s original decision was “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion or otherwise not in accordance with the law.”
The former OSHA employee spoke out internally, in the media and before Congress on the underreporting.
“This case stands for the proposition that an agency cannot incessantly harass a whistleblower and then punish him if he or she reacts,” said PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein, who successfully argued the Federal Circuit case for Whitmore, in a statement. “We expect that that the size of this settlement will bolster the effect of the Federal Circuit decision in deterring federal agencies from retaliating against whistleblowers.”
As part of the settlement, Whitmore -- 66 -- agreed not to work for the Labor Department for 15 years.
“I can’t wait until I’m 81 years old and go back to work,” Whitemore told The Washington Post. “I’m sure the system will be in the same sorry-ass shape that it is today.”
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June 7, 2013