July 30, 2018 is National Whistleblower Day which commemorates America’s dedication to liberty by honoring those with the bravery and selflessness to challenge abuses of authority in order to preserve the integrity of our union. Congress enacted our country’s first whistleblowing law over 239 years ago, but its words still ring true today:
…It is the duty of all persons in the service of the United States, as well as all other inhabitants thereof, to give the earliest information to Congress or any other proper authority of any misconduct, frauds or misdemeanors committed by any persons in the service of these states.
Significantly, Rains Lucia Stern St. Phalle & Silver, PC Partner Russell Perry established First Amendment whistleblower protection for peace officers reporting misconduct in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Dahlia v. Rodriguez.
Today, we are to now honor whistleblowers around the nation, including our own clients Michael Bachmann and Sarah Steele.
Whistleblowers Michael Bachmann and Sarah Steele are former employees of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD). BAAQMD is the regional, government agency that regulates sources of air pollution within the nine San Francisco Bay Area Counties. The District inspects and enforces air pollution regulations against refineries and major polluters, including Chevron, Tosco, Pacific Steel Casting, and Shell.
BAAQMD allegedly destroyed documents containing evidence of air quality violations by certain entities. Sadly, the destroyed records also contained environmental data critical to maintaining safe air quality for the public. Our clients refused to participate in this alleged destruction of the documents and disclosed the BAAQMD’s illicit actions to the proper authorities.
For their selfless actions, our clients allege they suffered workplace retaliation and were wrongfully terminated on false grounds. We have formally filed a lawsuit, with our co-counsel at Gwilliam, Ivary, Chiosso, Cavalli & Brewer, against BAAQMD for illegally destroying documents critical to the District’s ability to monitor, regulate, and enforce air quality for the Bay Area.
“In the past, some in the public have expressed concern that BAAQMD was too close to the companies they regulate and appeared to limit the public’s access to pollution related information. The allegations in the complaint confirm those fears,” said Eustace de Saint Phalle of Rains Lucia Stern St. Phalle & Silver, co-counsel for Bachmann and Steele.
“These are very serious allegations. The health and safety of all Bay Area residents is dependent upon the Bay Area Air Quality Management District properly doing its job. Without proper documentation and record keeping by the District, the important safety functions of this regulatory agency are severely impaired,” said J. Gary Gwilliam, Esq. of Gwilliam, Ivary, Chiosso, Cavalli & Brewer, co-counsel for Plaintiffs.
“When Michael and Sarah refused to participate in the illegal destruction of vital public records, the District alleged they committed minor policy violations – policy violations that they did not commit – and fired them both. We will fight these false charges and make sure that those responsible for the destruction of records essential to protecting the air we breathe, keeping the public safe, and punishing major polluters are held accountable,” said Saint Phalle.
“Michael and Sarah have experienced significant hardship, both financially and emotionally, as a result of their decision to stand up and protect the public. Michael sacrificed a career of over 15 years that he loved and has been essentially blacklisted in his field. He respected and admired the amazing people he worked with, but has lost many of those friendships because he was not allowed to contact anyone while he was suspended. Despite the personal toll, he would do it again today, because his conscious would never allow him to turn a blind eye to the District’s actions,” said Alison Karp of Rains Lucia Stern St. Phalle & Silver.