Whistleblower Files Complaint Against Department of Energy for Retaliatory Firing

A Washington whistleblower is looking for a new job after he was fired for leaking photos of Secretary of Energy Rick Perry hugging an executive of a coal company and the cover sheet of an action plan. Mr. Perry met with Robert Murray, the head of Murray Energy, on March 29, 2017. Simon Edelman was employed as a photographer for the Department of Energy at the time and was present at the meeting to take photos. According to Mr. Edelman, he believed it was his duty to expose the close relationship between Mr. Murray and Mr. Perry and to refute statements made by Mr. Murray.

Disproving Previous Statements

Mr. Murray has repeatedly indicated that he had no involvement with the development of new rules for the coal industry. The photos leaked by Mr. Edelman serve as a silent refutation of these statements, showing Mr. Perry’s very close relationship. Mr. Edelman also captured a photo of the action plan shared by the two men during the March meeting. One portion of the plan visible in the photographs states, “Immediate action needs to be taken to require organized markets to value fuel security.” Some experts believe this wording is intended to promote coal over other available energy sources, even when those sources may be less expensive and less problematic for the economy.

Edelman Fired for Leaking Photos

The photographs taken by Mr. Edelman at the March 29, 2017 meeting were published by the New York TImes in December 2017. The day after they appeared, Mr. Edelman was placed on administrative leave and his personal laptop was confiscated by officials at the Department of Energy. He was later informed that his employment with the agency was over. Mr. Edelman subsequently filed a complaint with the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Energy and requested the return of his laptop and other items confiscated at the time of his departure from the agency.

Protections for Whistleblowers

The website of the U.S. Department of Energy outlines the protections provided to whistleblowers under federal law. These protections apply to employees who report specific activities to their supervisor or other members of their management chain, to the Office of the Inspector General or the U.S. Office of Special Counsel. Protected reported offenses include the following:

• Waste of funding
• Gross mismanagement
• Abuse of authority
• Activities that present a risk to public safety or welfare
• Violations of laws and regulations

Because Mr. Edelman did not follow the prescribed procedures for telling officials about the alleged inappropriate behavior he saw, it may be more difficult for his legal team to win in his complaint against his former employer. For those in similar situations, proactively consulting with a New York City employment lawyer can potentially prevent missteps and increase the chance of maintaining a viable whistleblower retaliation claim.

If you are concerned that particular activity in the workplace rises to the level in which your report would constitute whistleblowing, please contact a New York City employment attorney from  Risman & Risman today. We can provide you with the support and the representation you need to achieve the best possible outcome for your matter. Call us today at 212-233-6400 to schedule a free consultation with one of our attorneys.