Former OSHA official obtains record settlement in whistleblower lawsuit against agency

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by Heygood Orr and Pearson

A former top official with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has reached a $820,000 settlement with the Department of Labor. The settlement—one of the largest ever reached in a federal whistleblower lawsuit—ends former OSHA records keeping head Bob Whitmore’s four year lawsuit against the Labor department over allegations that he was fired for criticizing the agency’s underreporting of workplace injuries.

According to the whistleblower lawsuit he filed against the Department of Labor, Whitmore alleged that he was fired from his job at OSHA after speaking with the Charlotte Observer concerning an investigation into dangerous workplace conditions in the poultry industry. Whitmore told the newspaper that OSHA leaders knew that the rate of workplace injuries in many industries was much higher than statistics that were made available to the public.

Whitmore alleges that he was fired after his comments were included in an article about the Observer’s investigation. Whitmore filed a lawsuit against OSHA after he was fired under a federal law known as the Whistleblower Protection Act, which is designed to safeguard federal employees who report misconduct among federal agencies such as OSHA.

Although the terms of many whistleblower settlements are confidential, Whitmore’s attorney believes that his client’s is the largest settlement ever in a whistleblower lawsuit filed against the federal government. Whitmore and his lawyer say that they hope the settlement in their case against OSHA will get the attention of other federal agencies who may consider retaliatory firings of employees who report misconduct or government wrongdoing.