The state of Colorado is not unfamiliar with the impact a whistleblower can have on the future of a business, local government, or individuals employed by either type of organization. In 2016, Colorado-based company DaVita reached a multimillion-dollar settlement with the federal government after a whistleblower accused the company of unethical and illegal business practices. The DaVita settlement was one of several that have been reached as a result of an employee contacting local or federal agencies regarding improper or possibly illegal practices. During the first few months of 2016, clean-air advocate Leslie Weise joined the ranks of Colorado whistleblowers.
Monument, Colorado resident Leslie Weise began questioning the emission levels of the Martin Drake municipal power plant located less than three miles away from her son’s elementary school. An outside firm was hired by the local utility company in 2013 to measure the power plant’s emissions of sulfur dioxide, but the records were not publicly available. Weise filed a request under the Colorado Open Records Act for a copy of the study, leading to further litigation after the initial request was denied. After filing an appeal, Weise inadvertently received a copy of the report from the court that she was required to return, but after returning the report, Weise told a reporter at The Gazette that the plant’s sulfur dioxide emissions exceeded limits set by the federal government.
Once the story was released, Weise found herself facing retaliation from the utility company and local government. Weise claims that the company and city officials sought to find a way to punish her, including releasing statements that implied she would be charged with a crime. While eventually the utility company stopped calling for charges that would lead to jail time for Weise, she believed the damage was done. Various city of Colorado Springs council members claimed that Weise was lying about the sulfur dioxide report and accused her of breaking the law by talking to a reporter and the general public about the contents of the report that is still unavailable to the public.
Leslie Weise claimed that even after the utility dropped their initial suits and legal claims against her, they continued to retaliate through other means. Weise stated that the company, along with city officials, spent nearly a year attempting to ruin her reputation throughout her community. She believes that they sought to discredit her so that her statements about the Martin Drake Power Plant would not be believed. Now Weise has sought to clear her name and put the matter to rest by filing a defamation lawsuit against the city of Colorado Springs, the Colorado Springs Utilities spokeswoman, and several current and former council members.
Leslie Weise’s experience is not uncommon. Despite federal protections designed to shield whistleblowers from retaliation, current and former employers may still retaliate against an individual who releases information that the organization did not want to be distributed. The team at HKM Employment Attorneys is here to provide legal advice and representation if you find yourself facing retaliation from an employer after participating in any whistleblowing activities. Contact us today to schedule an appointment at our Denver, Colorado office if you or someone close to you needs a whistleblower attorney to protect your rights.