Whistleblowers Sue Florida Eco-Inspector General

TALLAHASSEE, Florida, October 24, 2008 (ENS) - The office that was created to serve as watchdog over the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is facing two lawsuits filed against it this year for allegedly improper terminations of employees.

The latest suit, filed Monday in state Circuit Court for Leon County, details how the DEP Inspector General is alleged to have fired a long-time law enforcement supervisor in retaliation for blowing the whistle, according to pleadings posted by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, PEER, a national association of workers in natural resources agencies, both state and federal.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of David King, a former captain in the DEP Division of Law Enforcement, describes how King had complained about what he called an improper reporting of a fictitious crime by senior administration officials.

King also complained about an attempt by senior management to hire an individual whose qualifications were suspect, but who was friends with one of King's superiors.

King was terminated after he refused to condone the actions of his superiors. The lawsuit alleges that the Inspector General's Office participated in the efforts to fire him.

King appealed his termination to the Public Employee Relations Commission where he won and was ordered reinstated.

But, after being ordered to reinstate King, the DEP, through the Inspector General's Office, began a new investigation against King in another effort to oust him.

The King lawsuit brought by Danielle Joyner-Kelley, a former assistant state attorney, claims First Amendment and whistleblower law violations as well as a variety of other illegalities on the part of the state agency, including civil conspiracy.

King's lawsuit parallels a suit filed by PEER in January on behalf of Thomas White, who served as the senior chemist in the DEP's Port St. Lucie laboratory until he was terminated on the basis of an allegedly bogus investigation by the DEP's Office of the Inspector General.

DEP based its action against White on allegations of data fraud but the agency has been unable to identify which data were allegedly altered. White denies that he had altered any data.

The lawsuit alleges that instead he was the one who blew the whistle on an array of embarrassing problems caused by improper oversight of laboratory and field operations.

The problems identified by White impeached the integrity of South Florida water quality planning and could disqualify the state for federal grants that subsidize its clean water program.

These two personal damage lawsuits are being brought not only against DEP and the Office of Inspector General but also against Inspector General Pinky Hall and her top deputies in their personal capacities, including Henry Barnet, director of the DEP Division of Law Enforcement.

The PEER suit for White has already survived dismissal motions and is proceeding to trial, also in state Circuit Court for Leon County.

"In Florida's DEP, the Inspector General is used to perform political hatchet jobs on whistleblowers while turning a blind eye to the most egregious agency malfeasance," alleged Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney.

"Three years ago we brought this issue to the public's attention when it was learned that the DEP used political contributions in considering whether or not to hire, fire, or promote applicants," said Phillips. "In that case, the OIG failed to conduct any meaningful investigation into the agency's misconduct, essentially rubber-stamping it."

{Photo: Henry Barnet, DEP Division of Law Enforcement Director, is named as a defendant in the lawsuit brought on behalf of David King. (Photo courtesy Florida DEP)}

View a copy of the lawsuit filed on behalf of David King here

Read a copy of the lawsuit filed on behalf of Thomas White here.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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