Asee peer logo

Whistle Blowing By Engineers And Reverse Whistle Blowing On Engineers

Download Paper |


2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Engineering Ethics V

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.1371.1 - 14.1371.12



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors

author page

Douglas Oliver University of Toledo

Download Paper |

NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Whistle-Blowing by Engineers and Reverse Whistle-Blowing on Engineers Douglas L. Oliver

Key Words: Whistle-blowing, engineering ethics, white-collar crime.

Abstract This paper introduces two case studies in engineering ethics related to white-collar crime and whistle-blowing lawsuits. In these case studies engineers were employed by corporations that benefited from employee criminal behavior. These employees were fired and filed wrongful-termination lawsuits claiming whistle-blower protections. These lawsuits, as well as Department of Justice guidelines, created strong incentives for the corporate employers to demonstrate that the engineers, not the corporations, were at fault for the criminal behavior.

Introduction Whistle-blowing on employers who commit dangerous or illegal acts have been discussed in many engineering ethic texts and articles. Some authors have attempted to delineate under which circumstances whistle-blowing is allowed and when it is ethically mandatory1. Others lionize whistle-blowers as “saints of secular culture”2. When discussing whistle-blowing it is important to emphasize that legal protections for whistle-blowers are uncertain. Further, the financial and personal costs of whistle-blowing can be staggering.3

One aspect of whistle-blowing that has not been covered well is the negative consequences that may result from filing a wrongful-termination lawsuit claiming whistle-blower status. Some potential negative consequences of whistle-blower lawsuits are illustrated by two case studies presented below. These two case studies both involve engineers who sued former employers claiming whistle-blower protections.

Case 1: Scapegoat Engineer at Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Plant? First Energy Nuclear Operating Co. (FENOC) operates the Davis–Besse Nuclear Power Station in Ohio. FENOC and its parent company FirstEnergy Corporation have a long history of serious safety, environmental, and management problems. For example:

The cause of the regional blackout of August 2003 has been attributed to FirstEnergy4;

In 2005, FirstEnergy settled a major lawsuit with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) for violations of the Clean Air Act. The civil penalty levied was the second largest similar penalty against a US power plant.5

Other than the Three Mile Island 2 plant, Davis-Besse has arguably the worst safety record in the US nuclear industry. Davis-Besse had 6 of the 34 significant “accident sequence precursor” incidents in the US between 1969 and 2005.6


Oliver, D. (2009, June), Whistle Blowing By Engineers And Reverse Whistle Blowing On Engineers Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5875

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2009 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015