Volkswagen Accused of Firing Whistleblower
PONTIAC, Mich. (CN) - Volkswagen fired an employee who blew the whistle on obstructionism as the automaker's emissions-cheating troubles unfolded last year, the worker claims in court.
Daniel Donovan, of Macomb County, says he had seven years under his belt at VW in Sept. 18, 2015, when the Environmental Protection Agency forced a recall of cars it found had been outfitted with "defeat-device" software that had been hoodwinking emissions inspectors for years.
Though the EPA's case necessitated a legal hold on Volkswagen's data, Donovan claims in a March 8 lawsuit that VW's "information technology department did not stop all deletion jobs until Sept. 21."
As an employee within Volkswagen's Office of General Counsel, Donovan says he knew the IT department was violating the Justice Department hold by not preserving back-up disks.
But Donovan says the IT department was adamant about limiting access to Volkswagen data for the accounting firm conducting the independent investigation.
Worried about "significant legal sanctions" Volkswagen could see for evidence spoliation and obstruction of justice, Donovan refused to take part in such actions reported his concerns to a supervisor, according to the complaint.
Alleging wrongful discharge and violation of the Michigan Whistleblowers' Protection Act, Donovan is seeking exemplary damages in Oakland County Circuit Court.
"Donovan also asserts that he was fired because VWGoA [short for Volkswagen Group of America] believed that Donovan was about to report the spoliation of evidence and obstruction of justice to the EPA and/or the United States Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or some other public body," the complaint states.
Donovan is represented by Sam Morgan with Gasiorek Morgan in Farmington Hills.
The U.S. government hit VW, Porsche and Audi with a federal complaint earlier this year in Detroit over nearly 600,000 diesel-engine vehicles designed to defeat emissions testing.
While the cars meet federal standards under laboratory settings, the EPA says they spew nitrogen oxides at up to 40 times that limit on the road.
The automakers achieved this by using a sophisticated algorithm that kicks into full emissions-control mode only when it detects the vehicle is undergoing inspections.
Facing penalties of up to $37,500 per day for Clean Air Act violations, Volkswagen is expected to face billions of dollars in fines.
Nitrogen oxide pollution has been linked to increased asthma attacks and deadly respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses.
The scandal led to the resignation of CEO Martin Winterkorn, hundreds of federal class actions consolidated in San Francisco, plus multiple investigations and congressional hearings .