DID EXCAVATION COMPANY FIRE WHISTLE-BLOWER?
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.