Whistleblowers have again made national news recently. This time, however, their treatment has left many wondering if they are properly shielded from harassment, threats and retaliation. This is a travesty, because blowing the whistle is a way for individuals within a company, agency, organization or community to hold people accountable for illegalities, abuses of power and threats to public safety.
We’ve seen it in both the private sector and the public sector – the CEO of a bank or a pharmaceutical company receiving a golden parachute with retirement benefits that allows them to live the rest of their days in lavish comfort, despite a whistleblower case that points to them being involved in some form of fraud. Or the head of a government agency that is given a high-paying job in the private sector, despite a whistleblower case showing the official turned a blind eye to fraud committed in the very same private sector they now work in. So what does the whistleblower get? While it’s true that whistleblowers can receive substantial rewards in qui tam cases, they can also be bullied, harassed and threatened. It’s time for this to stop.
The teenage children of Aurelia Fedenisn answered the door to their suburban Washington, D.C. home to find two diplomatic security agents standing in the doorway. Fedenisn, a former investigator for the State Department’s Inspector General, had recently disclosed to a U.S. Senator that her office was forced to cover up allegations of high-level State Department officials using drugs and soliciting prostitutes.
According to an article in USA Today, the two men verbally threatened Fedenisn’s children, demanding to speak to the former investigator. Additionally, Inspector General staff initiated a stake out on her front yard in an attempt to bully her into admitting that she had done something wrong.
This type of retaliation is nothing new, as many whistleblowers, like Jeff Black, have found out the hard way. P. Jeffrey Black was an Air Marshal that spoke out against the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Air Marshal Service. During his tenure, he testified before Congress, complaining about agency shortcomings. His bosses accused Black of leaking reports of budget cutbacks. Black told CNN that his actions resulted in a demotion to a menial desk job and his home being placed under surveillance.
After he retired, Black appeared in a documentary critical of U.S. airline security measures, entitled, “Please Remove Your Shoes.” On the same day the documentary premiered, an agent from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) showed up at his door. Black endured a yearlong audit that saw a lien placed on his home. Oddly enough, the audit found that the government actually owed him more money than he owed the government – thousands more. Black paid what he owed. Did he ever receive any of the money owed to him? Nope. The government claimed the statute of limitations had run out.
Whistleblowers should be lauded for their courage and protected from persecution rather than being vulnerable to threats and harassment.