The California agency charged with protecting the Bay Area from industrial air pollution faces a whistleblower retaliation lawsuit filed by two former employees who claim they were wrongfully terminated for trying to prevent sensitive records from being illegally destroyed.
Plaintiffs Michael Bachmann and Sarah Steele filed the wrongful termination complaint against the Bay Area Quality Management District in state court. The pair worked in the agency’s Information Systems Services Division and were responsible for collecting, inventorying and digitizing more than half a century of physical documents ahead of the agency’s move to a new building in San Francisco.
Mr. Bachmann, the agency’s IT manager, and Ms. Steele, an analyst in Mr. Bachmann’s office, claim that two of the District’s lawyers, including its head lawyer, and its Director of Enforcement worked to ensure that certain documents were destroyed, despite a law that requires all records to be preserved to provide an historical context of incidents at companies under the agency’s watch.
“In one instance in January 2016, Bunger, Guy and Kino told Steele to take boxes of microfilm containing notices of violations, settlements with polluters, asbestos records and thousands of pollution complaints from citizens about different companies and place them in an unsecured storage room, according to the claim,” CBS San Francisco Bay Area reported.
A few days later, Ms. Steele noticed that those records, which she had previously inventoried, had disappeared.
In another incident that same month, she discovered that flare reports for a number of Bay Area refineries, including Chevron, Tesoro, Shell were being disposed of in a dumpster.
According to the complaint, the District is supposed to keep records of any documents it does destroy, which it allegedly failed to do.
“It’s about our health. It’s about our kids. It’s about our air,” Ms. Steele said at a news conference in Oakland.
The District claims it fired Mr. Bachmann in August 2016 “for alleged violations of the district’s vehicle use policy, insubordination, assigning overtime to Steele and dishonesty on his employment application, which he filled out in 16 years ago when he was hired by the district, according to the claim,” CBS News reported.
The District claims that Ms. Steele was a temporary employee and was let go after her project was completed.
Source: CBS News SF Bay Area