Sunday Read: Women Whistleblowers
This overview of women in whistleblowing was sent as part of NWC’s Sunday Reading series that aims to educate supporters about specific whistleblower issues. For more information like this, please join our mailing list.
Each March, the United States and countries around the world celebrate Women’s History Month in honor of the important contributions women have made throughout history.
National Whistleblower Center recognizes the critical role that women whistleblowers have played in speaking out against corruption, threats to public safety, and other forms of wrongdoing.
All whistleblowers face immense obstacles when deciding to come forward, including retaliation, ostracization, and loss of their livelihoods. Yet, women often confront additional barriers when speaking out due to pervasive gender discrimination and sexism in the workplace that make it extremely difficult — and even more dangerous — to speak up.
This Sunday, NWC celebrates Women’s History Month by highlighting some courageous women whistleblowers who chose to do what is right, despite the grave risks they faced.
Jane Turner Highlighted FBI Failures and Became a Leading Whistleblower Journalist
Jane Turner, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Special Agent, led the Bureau’s highly successful program combating child sex crimes and crimes against women on Indian Reservations in North Dakota. After discovering and exposing the FBI’s failures within the child crime program in 1998–1999, Turner was removed from her senior position in retaliation. Turner challenged her retaliation in federal court, fighting the FBI’s retaliation for nearly nine years. In 2007 the jury awarded Turner the maximum compensatory damages permitted under Title VII, the total exceeding $1.5 million. NWC Board Chair, Stephen Kohn, represented Turner as the lead trial attorney.
Turner also played a role in exposing FBI misconduct at the 9/11 crime scene. She was harshly retaliated against for reporting these concerns to the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Justice. Turner was the mistress of ceremonies at NWC’s National Whistleblower Day celebrations in 2021, and spoke at the 2019, 2017, and 2015 celebrations. Further, Jane is a leading whistleblower journalist at Whistleblower Network News publishing a weekly feature on significant whistleblowers and raising awareness about these critical stories with her podcast.
Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo Won Stronger Anti-Retaliation Protections for Federal Employees
Dr. Coleman-Adebayo sacrificed her career at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to speak out against vanadium poisoning in South Africa. She is the author of, NO FEAR: A Whistleblower’s Triumph Over Corruption and Retaliation at EPA. NO FEAR tells the story of vanadium miners in South Africa and Dr. Coleman-Adebayo’s efforts to protect them. Although she won a historic jury verdict, the EPA continued its retaliation.
Dr. Coleman-Adebayo led the charge against racial discrimination and whistleblower retaliation at the Environmental Protection Agency. Her campaign resulted in the passage of the NO-FEAR Act.
Karen Silkwood Was the First Nuclear Whistleblower
Americas first nuclear whistleblower, Karen Silkwood discovered numerous health violations, including exposure to high levels of nuclear contamination, at the Kerr-McGee nuclear power plant near Crescent, Oklahoma. In the summer of 1974, she testified to the Atomic Energy Commission about her concerns.
She joined the union and became an activist on behalf of issues of health and safety at the plant as a member of the union’s negotiating team, the first woman to have that position at Kerr-McGee. In November 1974, she died in a mysterious car accident on the way to provide documentation of safety violations to a New York Times reporter. Her case was highlighted in the 2009 movie Silkwood.
Julia Davis Faced Unprecedented Retaliation Drawing Attention to National Security Failures
Julia Davis is a national security whistleblower, anti-terrorism/immigration expert, who exposed glaring shortcomings in the processing of applicants for admission into the U.S. from terrorist countries. Julia served as a Customs and Border Protection Officer at the San Ysidro Port of Entry — the largest and busiest land border crossing in the U.S. and in the world.
Julia detected and reported improperly processed entries of 23 people from countries of high concern for terrorism into the U.S. on July 4, 2004. When the Department of Homeland Security failed to act on this information, Julia made a report to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF).
A total of 54 retaliatory investigations were taken against Julia. And, her family members and witnesses who dared to support Julia were subjected to land and aerial surveillance, costing taxpayers millions.
After years of litigation, Julia prevailed against the Department of Homeland Security. Julia’s whistleblowing story was the topic of a documentary film “Top Priority: The Terror Within,” which premiered at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on May 16, 2012.
Vera English Addressed Radiation Contamination and Won State Rights for Whistleblowers
Vera English was a former General Electric (GE) employee who discovered widespread radiation contamination by GE. English was fired in retaliation for reporting the contamination in 1984. Her subsequent Supreme Court case established the right of whistleblowers to pursue cases under state law with the National Whistleblower Center filing an amicus brief in support for her case.
Vera English’s victory in the U.S. Supreme Court (English v. General Electric, 496 U.S. 72) set a precedent that permitted whistleblowers to obtain relief under state laws. GE fought English for over 10 years and Ms. English told her story in the 1994 documentary “How to Blow the Whistle and Win”.
Together, these women — who were also whistleblowers — have helped change the world for the better. To learn more about these individuals, as well as other courageous women whistleblowers, please visit our Women’s History Month page. National Whistleblower Center is a woman led non-profit and we are so proud to celebrate and support these women whistleblowers today.
Please consider donating to help NWC continue fighting for whistleblowers and celebrating women.