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OSHA Awards $99K to Environmental Whistleblower

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) awarded $99,000 to Gy Bennar, a former Head Greens Keeper at an Oklahoma golf course, for blowing the whistle on illegal wastewater treatment practices. Southwestern Oklahoma Development Authority (“SWODA”) managed the public golf course.

Over the course of four years, Bennar allegedly witnessed SWODA using water from an adjacent sewage treatment plant to irrigate the golf course. Since the water was not properly chlorinated patrons and workers were exposed to harmful toxins. Bennar reported this to his supervisors but his complaints were ignored.

In March 2010, while Bennar was working towards his wastewater-treatment license from the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Bennar discovered that SWODA was engaging in unlawful irrigation practices. In August 2010, he reported SWODA to Oklahoma’s DEQ, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Governor of Oklahoma. A week after he blew the whistle, SWODA terminated Bennar.

OSHA held that the events surrounding SWODA’s termination of Bennar were violations of both the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. Both acts prohibit retaliation against an employee for reporting violations of antipollution laws. In accordance with federal whistleblower law, OSHA ordered SWODA to pay $99,040 in damages and attorneys’ fees under federal whistleblower law. SWODA must also remove any negative information in Bennar’s file and must refrain from giving any negative references to prospective employers. To prevent future violations, OSHA ordered that SWODA disseminate whistleblower rights material to all of its present and future employees.

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