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U.S. Department of Labor Orders Reinstatement and Damages for KMB Client James Speegle in Whistleblower Case at Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant

On February 9, 2011, a Department of Labor Administrative Law Judge Patrick M. Rosenow issued a decision awarding nuclear power-plant worker James Speegle reinstatement and damages totaling $218,000 from his former employer, Stone & Webster Construction, Inc., for its illegal firing of him for raising safety concerns. A foreman at Tennessee Valley Authority’s Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant near Florence, Alabama, Speegle was fired in May 2004 after he reported serious problems with the protective coatings being used in the plant’s cooling system. Speegle insisted that the faulty work could cause paint debris to clog emergency cooling pumps and prevent safe shutdown of the reactor during an accident. Stone & Webster fired him just two days after he reported the substandard work to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

After a Department of Labor appeals panel ruled in Speegle’s favor in 2009 and sent his case back to the trial court for a determination of appropriate relief, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission ordered Shaw Group, a Fortune 500 corporation with over 28,000 employees, to institute sweeping improvements in how it responds to workers’ safety complaints throughout its U.S. nuclear operations. Tennessee Valley Authority also removed Stone& Webster from the project in question, spent millions re-doing the work about which Speegle raised concerns, and then recovered $6 million in a lawsuit alleging that the company had defrauded the U.S. government in its work at the plant.

KMB partner David J. Marshall, who leads Speegle’s legal team, welcomed Judge Rosenow’s decision. “This is a very important ruling for whistleblowers nationwide,” Marshall said. “Employers need to know that if they fire a worker for speaking out about nuclear safety – or for that matter about financial misconduct, food-safety violations or other types of wrongdoing they see on the job – the worker might just fight back like James did and win not only a sizeable monetary award but also reinstatement to their positions.” Marshall said Speegle and his lawyers are insisting that the company reinstate Speegle immediately and will also petition the court for an award of attorneys’ fees.