WASHINGTON (CN) – A safety manager for the Department of Energy won an appeal in the Federal Circuit over her claim that the government retaliated against her for blowing the whistling on its plan to allow inadequately trained staff to safeguard nuclear weapons from getting into the hands of terrorists and other criminals.
Julie Johnston works in the Office of Secure Transportation in the agency’s National Nuclear Security Administration, which trains heavily armed employees to protect and transport nuclear weapons and other nuclear material.
In January 2006, her supervisors planned to implement a policy that would take away safety responsibilities from trained managers and delegate them to other agency employees called Command Safety Representatives.
Johnston says she “continually voiced” her concern that the safety representatives “lacked appropriate education and experience in safety management.”
She claims her supervisors reprimanded her for speaking out and told her that she had “damaged (her) reputation beyond repair” by emailing her criticisms to people outside her chain of command.
After exhausting her administrative remedies, she appealed to the Merit Systems Protection Board, alleging retaliation for a protected whistle-blowing activity.
The administrative judge dismissed her appeal for lack of standing, concluding that her disclosures “did not identify a substantial and specific threat to public safety.”
The appeals court adamantly disagreed. “There are few areas more fraught with potential peril to public safety than the transport of nuclear weapons,” Judge Mayer wrote.
“Johnston has been employed for several years as a safety and health expert at the agency charged with transporting the nation’s nuclear stockpile, so it takes more than the government’s mere contention that her allegations regarding safety issues are ‘frivolous’ to dismiss at the jurisdictional stage of the proceedings.”