Do You Need a Nuclear Safety Whistleblower Lawyer?

Do You Need a Nuclear Safety Whistleblower Lawyer?
  • Are you a nuclear employee who faces wrongful termination?

  • Have you been demoted or fired for reporting safety issues?
  • Are you in trouble because you refuse to "bend the rules"?
  • You're protecting the public — but who will protect you?

The Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 (ERA) is a federal law that forbids retaliation against nuclear workers who report safety violations or refuse to engage in unlawful practices. ERA whistleblower protection covers the reporting of several types of violations; it provides damages for any illegal harm suffered by a good-faith whistleblower. If you're a nuclear employee who has suffered wrongful termination, ERA may help you to get your job back.

The nuclear safety whistleblower attorneys at The Employment Law Group® law firm are experienced in representing employees in ERA proceedings, both before the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) — which enforces the law — and in federal court. Several of our cases have broken new legal ground in ERA employee protection. Representing a nuclear plant employee whose safety concerns were found to be “inextricably intertwined” with his firing, for instance, our firm’s work led to positive case law for nuclear whistleblowers.

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Important statutes in this area of law:

Notable TELG cases in this area of law:

  • Smith v. Duke Energy Carolinas, LLC

    ARB reversed ALJ ruling in favor of client, finding that his disclosures were “inextricably intertwined” with the investigatory process leading to his termination.

If you have suffered illegal retaliation under the Energy Reorganization Act, you may be entitled to reinstatement in your job; back pay for lost wages; front pay for future lost wages; litigation costs and attorney fees; and other compensatory damages.

As with all legal claims, deadlines are crucial. ERA complainants must file with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), part of the DOL, within 180 days of the retaliatory action.

Frequently Asked Questions

What activities are covered by ERA whistleblower protection?

Section 211 of the ERA protects employees who raise concerns about nuclear safety. An employee participates in protected activity by providing specific information to certain authorities — including the employer itself — about rule-breaking or other matters that may affect nuclear safety.  Examples include:

  • Refusing to engage in a practice that is unlawful under NRC rules;
  • Testifying in an NRC enforcement proceeding;
  • Filing nonconformance reports;
  • Revealing potential quality assurance problems;
  • Reporting violations of safety procedures;
  • Complaining about inadequate safety regulations;
  • Complaining about practices that violate NRC’s requirements to keep radiation exposure as low as reasonably achievable;
  • Questioning a superior about the correct safety procedure for surveying and tagging contaminated tools;
  • Participating in a surveillance that identifies instruments that are not correctly calibrated;
  • Complaining about impact of having employees that perform safety-related functions work overtime; and
  • Complaining about the nuclear-safety impact of short staffing.

What must a plaintiff prove to prevail?

To successfully establish an ERA whistleblower claim, an employee must prove the following:

  1. The employee engaged in protected activity;
  2. The employer knew of the protected activity;
  3. The employee was subjected to adverse action by the employer; and
  4. The employee’s protected activity contributed to the employer’s decision to take an adverse action against the employee.

What is the employee’s burden of proof?

Employees must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that their protected activity was a contributing factor in the employer’s decision to take the unfavorable personnel decision.

What is the employer’s burden of proof?

If a plaintiff successfully proves that the protected activity was a contributing factor, an employer must demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that it would have taken the same unfavorable personnel action in the absence of such behavior.

What retaliatory acts are prohibited under the ERA?

The ERA prohibits a wide range of retaliatory actions, including termination, suspension, demotion, blacklisting, and any act that would dissuade a reasonable person from engaging in further protected activity.

What role does the NRC play in protecting nuclear whistleblowers from retaliation?

The NRC investigates all retaliation claims and typically also the underlying safety or regulatory compliance issue about which the employee blew the whistle.  If the NRC finds that a licensee has violated any of the provisions of the ERA, then the NRC may impose civil penalties.

What can a prevailing plaintiff recover?

Under the ERA, a prevailing employee will be made whole, i.e., will be returned to the same position he or she would have been absent the retaliation.  In particular, the ERA authorizes reinstatement, back pay for lost wages, compensatory damages, and litigation costs, including attorney fees.