In 1988, Joe Macktal rocked the corporate world when he violated the terms of secret “hush money” settlements in which workers were paid money to hide safety defects from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Macktal’s case rendered such agreements illegal under federal whistleblower law.
Joe Macktal was a journeyman electrician who worked for Halliburton Brown & Root (HB&R) building the Comanche Peak nuclear plant. After exposing serious safety defects at the plant, lawyers for HB&R coerced Mr. Macktal into signing a settlement agreement that prohibited him from telling the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) about his safety concerns. Macktal complained of the restrictions, but was warned that the powerful corporation would: “follow him to the ends of the earth,” and ruin him financially.
Similar restrictive settlement agreements had been signed by other whistleblowers, but none had been challenged.
In September 1988, Mr. Macktal rocked the corporate world when he willfully violated the terms of his settlement, exposed it to the world, condemned it, and challenged its legality. Joe Macktal put everything on the line. If the settlement was upheld he would have been required to pay HB&R’s fees and costs, which would have surely bankrupted him.
Initially, the Reagan-appointed NRC rebuffed Mr. Macktal’s safety complaint and sided with HB&R. However, the Senate Environmental and Public Affairs Committee held an emotionally charged oversight hearing in which Macktal was praised, and the HB&R officials and attorneys were berated by the Senators.
In the end, the NRC was forced to change course and restrictive settlement agreements were voided. Mr. Macktal’s case set national precedent for whistleblowers.