Vera English was employed as a lab technician in a nuclear-fuels production facility for the General Electric Company. In 1984, English contacted both her supervisor and the Nuclear regulatory Commission about other employees neglecting to clean up radioactive spillages. No efforts were made to rectify the situation. To further prove the point, English purposely contaminated a table and left untouched for days. She was fired shortly after. English then lodged an administrative complaint to the Secretary of Labor, highlighting that retaliation against whistleblowers is prohibited under the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974. The Secretary dismissed her claim on the grounds that she missed the 30-day window provided to file. English proceeded to file a claim for improper termination and intentional infliction of emotional distress in 1987.
The English v. General Electric Company case posed the Supreme Court question as to whether a state law claim for emotional distress, within the realm of nuclear safety, is preempted under federal law. The National Whistleblower Center (“NWC”) submitted an amicus brief in support of English.
In a prior case, the NWC was able to establish a right to file for grievances under State Law wherever the federal law does not preempt such an action. This helped support English’s claim and she won the right to sue for compensatory damages following retaliatory harassment.
This victory represented a huge win for whistleblowers by demonstrating how whistleblower protection legislation can be used to protect against corporate retaliation and in cases of whistleblowing in nuclear energy cases. English told her story in an NWC-produced video entitled “How to Blow the Whistle and Win.”
The NWC continues to actively work to enhance and protect whistleblower laws and provisions. Both the False Claims Act (“FCA”) and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (“SOX”) are modern legal resources instated to protect and defend whistleblowers and their rights. More information and Frequently Asked Questions on the FCA and the SOX are available to the public, and the NWC’s current campaigns can be accessed on the NWC website.