On October 6, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of the Department of Labor (DOL) ordered Exxon Mobil to reinstate two scientists the company fired over the possibility they had blown the whistle to the media.
In April 2019, the two scientists, Dr. Lindsey Gulden and Dr. Damian Burch, raised concerns to Exxon’s H.R. department about a financial disclosure filed by Exxon which included higher projections for oil output at the company’s drilling sites in Texas and New Mexico. The scientists believed there was no empirical evidence to support this increase and that it was in order to boost Exxon’s public filings. Later that year, Dr. Gulden and Dr. Burch were fired.
The DOL found that Exxon had fired the scientists in retaliation for the possibility they had blown the whistle to the media, a violation of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. In addition to reinstatement, Dr. Gulden and Dr. Burch were each awarded back pay of over $350,000.
The DOL order states that the whistleblowers “suffered financial hardship and mental anguish because [Exxon] illegally retaliated against them.” It further notes that “the terminations were devastating for Complainants, who are high level professionals, neither of whom had ever been terminated from a position.”
“We are very pleased with the Department of Labor‘s efforts and the result for our clients,” said Neil Henrichsen, one of the scientists’ whistleblower attorneys. “Accountability and a fair and just remedy is what they have been seeking all along in this matter.”
“It is imperative that the SEC and CFTC take prompt action to address the chilling effect caused by this case,” added Stephen M. Kohn of Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto, who is also representing the scientists. “Workers in the oil industry must feel free to communicate their concerns, and oil companies must welcome whistleblowers, not fire them,” continued Kohn, who also serves as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the National Whistleblower Center.
OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program enforces 25 whistleblower statutes, conducts investigations, and issues decisions regarding whistleblowers. On August 11, OSHA announced that the agency “revised the Whistleblower Investigations Manual for the agency in its ‘first complete overhaul since 2011.’” The revised manual “outlines procedures and other information relative to the handling of retaliation complaints under the various whistleblower statutes for which responsibility was delegated to OSHA,” according to prior WNN reporting.