DID EX­CA­VA­TION COM­PANY FIRE WHIS­TLE-BLOWER?

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Aldo Svaldi Aldo Svaldi: 303-954-1410, as­valdi@den­ver­post.com or @al­dos­valdi

A for­mer em­ployee of OE Con­struc­tion Corp. has sued the Golden ex­ca­va­tor for wrong­ful ter­mi­na­tion and ha­rass­ment he claims re­sulted af­ter he blew the whis­tle on the com­pany’s tam­per­ing with emis­sions con­trols on its heavy equip­ment.

Justin Slocum, in a com­plaint filed Thurs­day in Jef­fer­son County Dis­trict Court, said he re­fused OE Con­struc­tion’s re­peated re­quests to mod­ify pol­lu­tion con­trol soft­ware on its ex­ca­vat­ing equip­ment and even­tu­ally re­ported the vi­o­la­tions to state in­spec­tors.

“He wants to tell what hap­pened to a jury. He wants to stop this type of con­duct from oc­cur­ring,” said Sid­dhartha Rathod, a Den­ver at­tor­ney spe­cial­iz­ing in em­ploy­ment law and civil rights cases and who is rep­re­sent­ing Slocum.

The law­suit names OE Con­struc­tion, which does ex­ca­va­tion and util­ity work, and its chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer, Terri Ol­son, as de­fen­dants and seeks an un­spec­i­fied amount of ac­tual, com­pen­satory and puni­tive dam­ages.

“OE Con­struc­tion Corp. and Terri Ol­son deny the al­le­ga­tions set forth in the com­plaint and look for­ward to pre­sent­ing their case to the jury,” said Michael Matthews, an at­tor­ney with Icon Law Of­fice in Long­mont.

Tam­per­ing with emis­sions con­trols in­creased the horse­power and re­duced the fuel con­sump­tion of the equip­ment, but boosted emis­sions and vi­o­lated fed­eral and state laws, the com­plaint al­leges.

“This is com­pa­ra­ble to what Volk­swa­gen was do­ing,” Rathod said. “The com­pany put prof­its above the en­vi­ron­ment.”

The is­sue came to a head in Oc­to­ber 2015 when the mod­i­fied ve­hi­cles were up for reg­is­tra­tion re­newals that in­cluded state emis­sions in­spec­tions. All but one piece of the mod­i­fied equip­ment was in North Dakota, which pro­vided an ex­emp­tion.

The suit claims Ol­son asked Slocum, the com­pany’s en­vi­ron­men­tal com­pli­ance of­fi­cer, to tell state of­fi­cials the piece of equip­ment in ques­tion was in North Dakota. Slocum re­fused and took it in for in­spec­tion.

He ex­plained the tam­per­ing that had taken place and later turned over a lap­top with ev­i­dence of the soft­ware mod­i­fi­ca­tions. Rathod said the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency is pur­su­ing a sep­a­rate fed­eral crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the al­leged tam­per­ing. U.S. At­tor­ney spokesman Jeff Dorschner didn’t con­firm the sta­tus of the case.

The com­plaint, which seeks a jury trial, is fo­cused on the re­tal­i­a­tion Slocum claims OE Con­struc­tion engaged in af­ter he re­ported the vi­o­la­tions, in­clud­ing his dis­missal, the with­hold­ing of his last pay­check and con­test­ing Slocum’s re­quest for un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits.

The com­pany also sought a theft in­ves­ti­ga­tion, which Wheat Ridge Po­lice didn’t pur­sue, and then filed a civil suit, later dropped, seek­ing $50,000 in dam­ages for theft and slan­der, ac­cord­ing to the com­plaint.

Rathod said he hopes the lit­i­ga­tion will make em­ploy­ers aware they will pay a price if they un­fairly pun­ish or re­tal­i­ate against em­ploy­ees who blow the whis­tle when laws are vi­o­lated.

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