OSHA ruled former company engineer faced “continuing pattern of retaliatory treatment”
BIRMINGHAM, Ala., Aug. 8, 2017 /PRNewswire/ — A former Southern Company engineer that reported safety concerns and falsification of operational reports at the company’s troubled “clean coal” Kemper Project filed a federal whistleblower lawsuit against the company and its chief executive officer, lawyers at Doyle LLP and Heninger Garrison Davis LLC said today.
The legal team for Brett Wingo, a resident of Alabama, filed the lawsuit in federal court in Birmingham, Ala., alleging that company officials, including Southern Company chief executive officer Thomas A. Fanning, repeatedly misled investors and the public about the “commercial operations date” (COD) of the plant in Kemper County, Miss.
Mr. Wingo, who worked for the company from 2007 to 2016, alleges violations of the federal Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the federal Dodd-Frank Act, and Mississippi state law by Southern Company after he repeatedly alerted company management in 2013 and 2014 about concerns, including several warnings that the reported COD was unjustifiably optimistic.
According to the complaint, “In a continuing effort to capture hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer subsidies; inflate short-term stock prices; ensure continued payment of unjustifiable executive compensation packages; and impose billions of dollars for decades to come in higher electricity costs for captive consumers in their monopoly utility market, Southern Company management again and again offered false promises about the feasibility, schedule, and safety” of the Kemper Project.
Mr. Wingo is represented by Michael Patrick Doyle, Patrick M. Dennis and Jeffrey I. Avery, of Doyle LLP, of Houston; and Stephen D. Heninger, Erik S. Heninger and Jeffrey P. Leonard of Heninger Garrison Davis LLC, of Birmingham, Ala.
Michael Patrick Doyle, of Doyle LLP, said, “[T]he Kemper Project stands as a monument to the consequences of concealment of the truth, and what too often happens to those who step forward to reveal the truth: they are retaliated against, rather than embraced and protected. Southern Company and its management, including Mr. Fanning, focused on neutralizing Mr. Wingo instead of the alleged fraud. Mr. Wingo, who has paid a terrible price professionally and personally, looks forward to confronting Southern Company and Mr. Fanning in the courtroom.”
The lawsuit alleges that, before Southern Company retaliated against him, “Mr. Wingo excelled at his project management initiatives, leadership and results, and Southern Company provided positive performance reviews, including the Southern Company’s prestigious Southern Excellence Award for three consecutive years from 2012 to 2014. Mr. Wingo also was appointed to join Southern Company’s leadership program, intended to further develop the corporation’s most promising managers.”
In January 2017, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) concluded after investigating Mr. Wingo’s allegations that he had been subjected to a “continuing pattern of retaliatory treatment” by Southern Company after he alerted managers, executives and compliance officers to Kemper Project problems. The company was found to have violated the federal Sarbanes-Oxley Act. OSHA ordered Southern Company to reinstate Mr. Wingo and pay him backpay and damages because of its “callous and reckless disregard” for his rights, and it’s “irresponsible disregard to the whistleblower protections enforced by OSHA.” It ordered that Southern Company reinstate him immediately. To date, the company has refused to do so.
The Kemper project was purported to be a first-of-a-kind power plant that promised to deliver cleaner, more affordable electricity while using proprietary “clean coal” and integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) technology, the lawsuit asserts. Southern Company recently reported that shareholder losses from the Kemper Project exceed $6 billion.
The defendants in the case are Southern Company, Southern Company Services Inc., and Mr. Fanning.
The case is “Brett Wingo v. The Southern Company, et al.,” Case No. 2:17-cv-01328-MHH in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, Southern Division.