When a nuclear engineer working for the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) had some safety concerns about the nuclear program, she voiced her opinion. That opinion, given to a TVA attorney, included the fact that she believed that her supervisor was both too inexperienced for the job and willfully ignored safety issues. She backed up her statement by citing violations of worker fatigue rules, among other issues.
The 56-year-old engineer had been with the TVA since 1986, but TVA promptly fired her for “bad-mouthing” a superior and attacking that supervisor’s credibility. Her voice wasn’t the only one who was raising complaints, but the supervisor claimed that the engineer’s complaints about safety were both insubordinate and “creating a hostile work environment.”
The Labor Department and Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) investigated and found what was referred to as a “chilled” work environment where employees were essentially too scared of retaliation to keep drawing attention to problems. Ultimately, TVA was ordered to give the engineer her job back, along with back pay, lost bonuses, benefits, legal fees and compensatory damages for what she had suffered due to her wrongful termination.
Now, the NRC has leveled a $600,000 fine against the TVA. It also banned the TVA’s former vice-president of regulatory affairs from any involvement in nuclear activities overseen by the NRC for the next five years due to deliberate misconduct and violations of rules meant to protect employees.
As an employee, your right to raise your voice over safety concerns is important — and it is protected by law. Unfortunately, some employers will stop at nothing to silence any kind of dissent, no matter how critical the issue. If you suffered a wrongful termination after making a complaint about your working conditions, your safety or some other protected issue, you have a right to seek compensation for your losses.