A Baton Rouge jury awarded a whistleblower $750,000 after hearing a retaliation complaint in which the plaintiff alleged he was fired by the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in retaliation for reporting an environmentally unsound and corrupt oil and gas project.
Dan Collins was contracted by the DNR to provide land research services, which the state requires for environmental and industrial purposes. In the course of his work, Mr. Collins discovered that a lucrative, state-funded oil and gas project that benefited one family in Iberia Parish was being masked as a project to improve water quality.
According to the complaint, Mr. Collins voiced his concerns about the Bayou Postillion dredging project to the DNR because the environmentally sensitive Atchafalaya Basin was being dredged to create canals for the oil and gas industry to use. But he says instead of responding appropriately to his concerns, DNR officials barred him and his company, CPL & Associates, from doing any further work for the state.
Mr. Collins told The Advocate that the case was “like a John Grisham novel.”
“It’s so remarkable … It was total obstruction once I uncovered it. It was total obstruction all the way to the top, all the way to the Governor’s Office,” Mr. Collins told The Advocate.
His lawyer said that that “it was literally a David and Goliath” that squared off one individual with the DNR and its team of lawyers, “backed by all of the state’s resources and a parade of state witnesses and experts whose job was to discredit Collins,” The Advocate reported.
The jury agreed with Mr. Collins’ allegations that the dredging violated federal and state environmental laws and that state officials from Gov. Bobby Jindal’s office and the State Attorney General on down turned a blind eye to his concerns. The jurors also found that the DNR violated whistleblower protection laws by denying Mr. Collins further work after he called out the dredging project.
Mr. Collins was awarded $250,000 for loss of income and anticipated earnings. Louisiana’s environmental whistleblower laws, however, triple the award and add to it attorney fees and other legal expenses.
“This is a great victory for my client,” Mr. Collins’ lawyer told The Advocate. “We are pleased that the jury recognized what had been done by DNR and saw the truth.”
Lawyers for the DNR told The Advocate that the 19th Judicial District jury was confused by the complex case and planned to appeal the decision.
Source: The Advocate