Sunday Read: Exxon Whistleblowers
This article was sent as part of NWC’s “Sunday Read” series that aims to educate supporters about whistleblower stories and whistleblower legislative or policy initiatives and current events. For more information like this, please join our mailing list.
National Whistleblower Center has long championed whistleblowers in the energy sector. We started public advocacy because nuclear power plant whistleblowers were being retaliated against and ignored. Energy sector whistleblowers have become even more important today. The energy sector is one of the largest industries in the world. There are two agencies that can help keep this industry under control. The Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”). Both of these agencies have whistleblower programs that provide whistleblowers with the ability to report anonymously, receive anti-retaliation protections and be rewarded.
When energy sector whistleblowers have the courage to come forward it is important to celebrate them. Whistleblowers can face blacklisting — which means they will not be hired in their industry. They can also face other forms of retaliation such as being fired, bullied, denied promotions, and being excluded from important meetings.
This Sunday, we discuss the successful reinstatement and backpay award to two energy sector whistleblowers. These Exxon whistleblowers reached out to NWC for help, and we were able to help them forge a path to win. Together with their attorneys, these whistleblowers are holding Exxon accountable for whistleblower retaliation and their disclosures may lead to more action.
Brave Whistleblowers Spoke Up about Being Told To Lie
In 2019 two scientists at Exxon raised concerns about reports about oil outputs. The scientists, Dr. Gulden and Dr. Burch, stated that the numbers published by Exxon could not be supported by science. The numbers painted a picture of having much more oil output than the whistleblowers’ view of the data could support. The whistleblowers believed that Exxon chose to publish numbers that were not accurate because the company wanted investors not to know the truth. After being told to submit reports that were not accurate, both Dr. Gulden and Dr. Burch spoke up.
Exxon none the less filed the incorrect financial reports. Rather than listen to the whistleblowers, Exxon fired both of them.
Accurate financial filings are legally required. The SEC requires that public companies publish information about anything that may be important to investors. In the energy sector, information about the oil output levels are directly related to the profitability of the company. This information no doubt would be important to investors. According to the whistleblowers, Exxon chose to mislead investors about the expected oil output. It is important for investors to have accurate information so they can make informed decisions.
Reinstatement and Damages — a Huge Victory!
After years of advocating for themselves, Dr. Gulden and Dr. Burch finally have some relief. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) which is part of the Department of Labor (“DOL”) ruled in support of their claims to anti-retaliation protections.
Together, the whistleblowers will be awarded nearly $1 million in backpay and damages and be reinstated. This is a huge victory because, as described above, whistleblowers often face financial hardships such as termination and blacklisting. This decision sends a clear message to energy sector whistleblowers. At Exxon and beyond, the DOL is sending the message that whistleblowers will be protected when they come forward and speak up about violations.
NWC celebrates these whistleblowers and commends their bravery!
Next Steps — Regulatory Action:
These whistleblowers shared information with the U.S. government about possible violations of the Securities and Exchange Act. As described above, accurate financial reporting is legally required. If the SEC or CFTC takes action against Exxon based on Dr. Gulden and Dr. Burch’s information, they could be awarded in the millions.
The misrepresentations Dr. Gulden and Dr. Burch allege are clear examples of the types of violations the SEC was designed to police. NWC fully supports continued action to hold Exxon accountable and commends these whistleblowers for their contributions to protecting our climate and investors.
National Whistleblower Center has long supported energy sector whistleblowers and recognizes the important role they play in protecting our environment. These whistleblowers are a prime example of the type of whistleblower NWC helps to come forward. We educate, encourage, and support whistleblowers like Dr. Gulden and Dr. Burch every day.
Please donate to NWC today to help us continue to help these courageous whistleblowers win.