A New Jersey water treatment plant worker who sued Sparta Township claiming he suffered a backlash for refusing to manipulate water quality tests has settled his case for $300,000.
Mark Nelson, an 18-year pumping station operator for the township’s Municipal Utilities Department, alleged in a May 2012 lawsuit that Director Phil Spaldi ordered him in 2010 to alter water testing results by increasing treatments for lead and copper just before samples were submitted to the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Mr. Nelson claimed he refused to follow the order, claiming he advised his direct supervisor, Michael Sportelli, that it would be improper to manipulate the tests and that the water tested should match the water distributed to the public.
Mr. Nelson was then excluded from the testing process, his complaint alleges, and Mr. Sportelli was assigned the task.
According to the lawsuit, Mr. Nelson also complained to his superiors that lead and copper treatment mechanisms were turned off at two of the township’s pumping stations, increasing the risk of water contamination.
In 2010 he advised his superiors that one particular pump house be converted to a booster station to keep water flowing to a certain section of the community. According to the complaint, however, his superiors ignored his recommendations, and the tank ran empty in 2011. As a result, Mr. Nelson claims that Mr. Sportelli wrote him up six times for “job performance deficiencies.”
Mr. Nelson alleges he was then put on a 30-day suspension without pay. When he returned to work, he was given a $10,000 salary cut. Mr. Nelson also alleged he was ordered to climb a water tank to work on an electrical panel during a lightning storm, all in retaliation, he claimed, for his whistleblower activities and insistence on following the rules.
According to NJ.com, the settlement in this whistleblower retaliation lawsuit was reached in May but was reported for the first time this week by the New Jersey Foundation for Open Government.