June 14, 2009
June 14, 2009
June 17, 2009
14.1371.1 - 14.1371.12
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. https://peer.asee.org/5875
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