A man in Anchorage, Alaska, was awarded $3.5 million in his wrongful termination lawsuit, according to the Anchorage Daily News. Shaw Environment and Infrastructure terminated 76-year-old Paul Blakeslee in 2008. Blakeslee claimed that Shaw’s decision to fire him was retaliation for his reporting potentially illegal activity at the company.
Shaw was under contract to maintain facilities at Fort Richardson and Fort Wainwright in Alaska. The contract was in excess of $100 million. Blakeslee discovered that a project manager at Shaw owned one-third of a private third party company that was leasing over $2 million in equipment to Shaw for use at the military bases. Blakeslee found that many of the leasing subcontracts were signed without the competitive bidding process required by law.
The manager was using his position at Shaw to benefit from leasing contracts for another company he owned.
“You’re spending money, and that’s not your money, that’s the taxpayer’s money,” Blakeslee said. “Evidently this jackass thought it was his money to have. He was a slick one.”
Instead of applauding Blakeslee for doing the right thing, Shaw informed him his position was being eliminated to save money. Blakeslee was determined to expose the misconduct and intended to send a letter to Shaw’s CEO. the letter was sent a week after Blakeslee was fired and the project manager in the bidding conflict was terminated, but the company never reinstated Blakeslee’s position.
“The thing that really got me is that their code of conduct, if someone does not report a wrongdoing, a conflict of interest, they will be fired,” Blakeslee said. “I reported it. Now, there’s other people who went along with it, knew about it and didn’t report it, and they all got promoted.”
Blakeslee certainly tried to do the right thing here, and a jury agreed it was wrong of Shaw to fire him—as retaliation against a whistleblower, no less. The jury was also right in this case to award Blakeslee $2.5 million in punitive damages in addition to $445,574 in lost wages and $486,458 in non-economic damages for his emotional distress. Punitive damages are intended to discourage the guilty party and others from partaking in similar misconduct.
If you were terminated by your employer after reporting dangerous or illegal practices by the company, contact our firm today to schedule a free consultation and discuss your legal rights.
Tip of the week: If you plan on reporting illegal or dangerous activity in your workplace, you should consult with an attorney beforehand to ensure that you are completely protected under whistleblower protections laws.
Kesluk, Silverstein & Jacob—Los Angeles whistleblower protection attorneys