Former state employee sues DEP over destroyed records
Published: Monday, January 28, 2008 at 4:58 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 28, 2008 at 4:59 p.m.
State environmental officials destroyed records, ignored federal anti-pollution rules and railroaded a senior scientist out of his job, according to a lawsuit filed in Leon County on Monday.
The lawsuit against the Department of Environmental Protection was filed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility on behalf of Thomas White. He was fired last year from his job as senior chemist in DEP's Port St. Lucie laboratory.
According to the lawsuit, DEP officials intentionally concealed and destroyed notes and other evidence to avoid giving White a chance to defend himself against allegations of data fraud.
White, who had more than 19 years of experience with DEP, attempted to expose problems with South Florida water quality planning, said Danielle Joyner-Kelley, one of his attorneys. Those problems could have disqualified the state for federal grants, she said Monday after filing the lawsuit.
"He's a whistleblower with no protection," Joyner-Kelley said.
Nine defendants were named in the lawsuit, including DEP, DEP Inspector General Pinky Hall and several current and former officials in DEP Southeast District, which is headquartered in West Palm Beach.
"The agency is currently reviewing the lawsuit, however DEP stands behind all agency actions to date," DEP spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller said.
A message seeking comment from Hall was left with the DEP.
The Florida Commission on Human Relations also was named because it failed to act on White's original whistleblower complaint within the 90 days prescribed by law, according to the lawsuit. The commission could not comment on the lawsuit, spokeswoman Leah Barber-Heinz said.
A 2006 state audit found that much of the work done by White's lab from January 2001 to July 2005 lacked indicators that note vital information such as whether a sample had been held beyond the acceptable time and whether results could be questionable in certain cases, DEP stated during a disciplinary hearing last year.
White denied the allegations.
The lawsuit includes counts of negligent supervision on the part of senior staff within DEP, illegal destruction of records, misuse of office and denial of due process.
White is seeking restoration of his position, back pay and damages. No specific amount was listed for damages, but Joyner-Kelley said they would be more than $100,000.
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