Sunday Read: Honoring Black Whistleblowers in 2024

National Whistleblower Center
6 min readFeb 5, 2024
This article highlighting the contributions of black whistleblowers was sent as part of NWC’s “Sunday Read” series. For more information like this, please join our mailing list.

February is Black History Month in the United States. National Whistleblower Center (NWC) proudly shines a spotlight on the contributions of Black professionals who have influenced the whistleblower landscape and risked their careers and personal lives in the process.

In addition to blowing the whistle, they defied a pattern that is often characterized by systemic racism. This dual impact has shaped the whistleblower landscape and Black whistleblowers have blazed trails for others to feel more secure in coming forward.

In this Sunday Read, NWC celebrates Black Americans who may not be household names but have contributed immeasurably to public safety. Their stories demonstrate the strength of whistleblower law and the resilience of the human spirit.

Scott Davis, VA Whistleblower

Scott Davis joined United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in 2011 and became a Program Specialist in 2013. Davis blew the whistle on mismanagement and waste — nearing between $100,000 and $200,000 monthly — at the Health Eligibility Center (HEC) in Atlanta, Georgia. He filed a complaint with the VA Inspector General and alleged that:

“The VA was not processing health care applications and were diverting funds that were for the promotion of the VA health program to a program promoting [the Affordable Care Act] ACA because it was tied to people’s performance bonuses in senior executive positions.”

Davis continued to raise concerns about these allegations and has contacted members of Congress and the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. Davis testified before Congress in May 2014 during a hearing of the House Committee on Veteran’s Affairs and talked about the retaliation he faced for whistleblowing at the VA.

The retaliation Davis faced was characterized by:

  • His employment records being illegally altered.
  • Losing access to programs involving coordination of projects.
  • Being placed on involuntary administrative leave, along with other whistleblowers in the VA who were also experiencing retaliation.

Davis was concerned that records and documents were being manipulated or deleted to mask a backlog at the VA, and there was a resistance by management to implementing proper and effective processing and reporting systems.

In 2015, a report issued by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) in response to Davis’ complaints and substantiated many of his allegations.

Davis has also been vocal on the role that racism played in agencies’ investigations.

“The Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection [OAWP] was never allowed to investigate staff, but for its first two years of its inception that’s all they did — go after whistleblowers and investigate whistleblowers,” he said during a Whistleblower Network News podcast interview in February 2022. “What the government has done and continues to do under Joe Biden is to hide the documents of their investigation of whistleblowers.

“In my case we have documents that attorneys like Sheila Fitzpatrick and the office of general counsel at VA was working advising managers to go after me when they said they didn’t feel comfortable based on the racist comments that were being made. [They were told] ‘go ahead and do it anyway.’”

Davis noted that the VA has tried to fire him several times, and did suspend him once. However, Davis is still employed by the VA and working from his home in the bio-med division.

Read the Whistleblower of the Week profile on Davis here.

Frank Wills, Security Guard and Watergate Scandal Catalyst

The story of Frank Wills should be more than a footnote in U.S. history, but a lesson in due diligence. A security guard at the Watergate complex in Washington D.C., Wills was merely making his rounds when he noticed that locks on the doors were tampered with. The then 24-year-old followed protocol and called the police. What was uncovered changed the course of a presidency and put a spotlight on the level of trust the public could invest in its leadership.

The Watergate complex was the site of the Democratic Party’s headquarters, and five men — at the direction of President Richard M. Nixon — were arrested for planning to bug the site and spy on their political opponents. The scandal eventually led to President Nixon’s resignation in 1974.

Wills enjoyed some notoriety for his actions. He was honored by the NAACP and the Democratic National Committee. Wills even played himself in the 1976 film All the President’s Men, based on the groundbreaking book by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, and also appeared briefly on the talk show circuit.

However, he was not rewarded financially by his employer, even modestly. In his obituary, The New York Times reported that Wills quit his job because he did not receive a raise. Over the next 20 years, Wills struggled to establish and maintain roots and stability — other security companies believed him to be a liability risk. He later suffered bouts of unemployment while caring for his ailing mother, and preventable run-ins with the law. He passed away in 2000 at age 52.

According to Wills’ obituary in The New York Times, the “most eloquent description of his role” was delivered by on July 29, 1974, when Rep. James Mann (D-South Carolina), while casting his vote to impeach Nixon on the House Judiciary Committee, said:

“If there is no accountability, another president will feel free to do as he chooses. But the next time there may be no watchman in the night.”

Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, EPA Whistleblower

An MIT-PhD social scientist, Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo landed her dream job at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the 1990s.

She tried to get the government to investigate allegations that a U.S. multinational corporation was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of South Africans mining vanadium — a vital strategic mineral. She ultimately found that the EPA was the first line of defense for the corporation. When the agency stonewalled, Coleman-Adebayo blew the whistle.

Though she won a historic jury verdict, the EPA continued its retaliation. Undaunted, Coleman-Adebayo organized a grassroots struggle to bring protection to all federal employees facing discrimination and retribution from the government.

The No FEAR Coalition that she organized waged a two-year-long battle with Congress over the need to protect whistleblowers — and won, resulting in the passage of the Notification and Federal Employee Antidiscrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002, better known as the No FEAR Act. The No FEAR Act requires “that Federal agencies be accountable for violations of antidiscrimination and whistleblower protection laws.”

Dr. Coleman-Adebayo chronicled her experiences in her 2011 memoir, No Fear: A Whistleblower’s Triumph Over Corruption and Retaliation at the EPA.

On Strategy in Whistleblowing

As we observe Black History Month, NWC reaffirms its commitment to honoring the contributions of Black whistleblowers and legal trailblazers in the practice area. Their actions and achievements, among those of countless others, have improved society and strengthened the practice of whistleblower law.

Though whistleblowers are brave, certain actions — such as going public — can also be incredibly risky. NWC advises whistleblowers to consult a lawyer before making moves on their own. The whistleblower protection laws are complex and vary from case to case and agency to agency.

Support NWC

NWC fights to bolster whistleblower programs and raise awareness about the value of whistleblowers of all kinds. As a 501(c)(3) non-profit our work is made possible with the support of our generous donors. Please consider donating $100 today to help us continue to educate the public about whistleblower experiences and the role whistleblowers play in putting an end to fraud and discrimination. Donors of $100 or more will receive a copy of Rules for Whistleblowers: A Handbook for Doing What’s Right, written by NWC Chairman Stephen M. Kohn, Esq.

This story was written by Justin Smulison, a professional writer, podcaster, and event host based in New York.



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