Fired Volkswagen Employee Files Whistleblower Suit Alleging Destruction of Documents Related to Dieselgate Scandal

by Eric Pearson

A former Volkswagen of America employee has filed a whistleblower lawsuit in Michigan, asserting that VW employees illegally deleted electronic data shortly after the United States government accused the carmaker of cheating on emissions tests in what has become known as the “Dieselgate” scandal.

The lawsuit alleges that VW employee Daniel Donovan worked in the Product Liaison Office, part of VW’s Office of General Counsel, where he was responsible for electronic discovery and information management, mostly related to personal injury and product liability cases against the automaker.  On September 15, 2015, the U.S. Justice Department issued a Notice of Violation of the Federal Clean Air Act to VW alleging that 2009-2015 Volkswagen and Audi diesel cars equipped with 2.0 liter engines included “defeat devices” that tricked emissions testing equipment into believing the vehicles met EPA emissions standards when they did not.

The lawsuit alleges that Donovan’s boss, Robert Arturi, instructed Donovan to contact another employee, Abdallah Shanti, and instruct him to put a “hold” on information relating to the vehicles at issue and cease the routine deletion of old files to the extent they related to such vehicles.  Despite providing these instructions, Donovan alleges, the deletion of files continued for several days, possibly in violation of federal law.

Donovan asserts that he brought the continued deletion of files to the attention of his superiors because he was concerned the company was violating federal law.  He also believed that the automaker was not cooperating with the accounting firm VW hired to investigate the fraud allegations regarding its diesel vehicles.  Donovan alleges that he was fired without warning on December 6, 2015 in retaliation for his refusal to cooperate in VW’s criminal failure to preserve evidence related to the Dieselgate scandal and the Justice Department’s investigation.  Mr. Donovan was fired “because he was about to report the obstruction of justice and spoliation of evidence to the E.P.A., the Department of Justice, the F.B.I., or other public body,” the lawsuit asserts.

Volkswagen is currently facing hundreds of lawsuits filed by owners of the VW, Audi, and Porsche vehicles involved in the emissions cheating scandal. The German automakers may also be facing billions in fines as a result of a Justice Department lawsuit filed over the Dieselgate scandal. Legal experts say that executives and engineers at VW may also face criminal charges over the company’s emissions cheating, although so far no charges have been filed in the U.S.  So far, VW has set aside $7.4 billion to deal with their potential liability, but experts believe their ultimate exposure could be several times that amount.

The vehicles included in the Volkswagen diesel recall include the 2009-2015 Audi A3 TDI, the 2016 Audi A6 Quattro, the 2016 Audi A7 Quattro, the 2016 Audi A8, the 2016 Audi A8L, the 2016 Audi Q5, the 2015 Porsche Cayenne, the 2009-2015 Volkswagen Beetle TDI, the 2009-2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI, the 2009-2015 Volkswagen Jetta TDI, the 2012-2015 Volkswagen Passat TDI, and the 2014 Volkswagen Touareg.

VW and Audi Diesel Owners May Qualify to File a Lawsuit

Owners of one of the Volkswagen or Audi “TDI Clean Diesel” models that were recalled by VW may be eligible to join the numerous lawsuits that have already been filed against the German automakers. Numerous commercial fraud lawsuits and class action litigation claims have already been filed against Volkswagen by VW and Audi owners who purchased or leased one of the recalled automobiles. As Volkswagen’s admissions in the Dieselgate scandal have made clear, the company knew for years that it was selling vehicles that failed to meet U.S. emissions standards and fraudulently lied to its customers by touting the eco-friendly technology of these vehicles.

The law firm of Heygood, Orr & Pearson has filed lawsuit on behalf of VW owners whose vehicles were affected by the company’s emissions cheating. One of our partners, Michael Heygood, was recently named to the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee of attorneys who will oversee the early stages of the Multidistrict Litigation (or MDL) in California involving the Dieselgate scandal. Our attorneys expect to remain involved in these cases throughout the litigation process as we work to achieve the best results possible for our clients who were harmed by Volkswagen’s fraudulent conduct.

If you purchased or leased one of the VW, Audi, or Porsche diesel-powered vehicles involved in the Dieselgate recall, contact the lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson to learn more about whether you qualify to file a lawsuit. For a free legal consultation about your case, please contact us by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001, or by following the link to our free case evaluation form and answering a few simple questions to get started.

by Eric Pearson

Eric Pearson is a licensed attorney and a partner at HO&P who handles commercial and personal injury lawsuits. Eric has been selected to the Super Lawyers List, a Thomson Reuters publication.