As the 1900s began, the decade saw the very first Women’s Day in the United States. Shortly after the U.S. held their first women’s march, an International Conference of Working Women was held in Copenhagen where the idea of International Women’s Day was born. By 1913 this day was being honored around the globe.
Today, over 100 years later, the National Whistleblower Center is joining the rest of the globe in continuing the International Women’s Day celebration. In this spirit, we wanted to highlight a few of the courageous whistleblowers who stood their ground in the face of corruption and enacted positive change.
We begin with Vera English, a former General Electric (GE) employee and nuclear whistleblower, who discovered widespread radiation contamination by GE. She was fired in retaliation for reporting this contamination in 1984, and GE fought English for over 10 years in court. Ultimately, her Supreme Court case established the right of whistleblowers to pursue cases under state law. English told her story in the video, ““How to Blow the Whistle and Win,” a 1994 documentary produced by NWC.
Some years later, the Time Persons of the Year in 2002 were all whistleblowers: Cynthia Cooper, Sherron Watkins, and Coleen Rowley. Cooper exploded the bubble that was WorldCom when she informed its board that the company had covered up $3.8 billion in losses through the prestidigitations of phony bookkeeping, while in the summer of 2001, Watkins wrote an infamous letter to chairman Kenneth Lay warning him that the company’s methods of accounting were improper. Shortly after, Enron was forced to declare bankruptcy and her story revealed the lack of protection Wall Street whistleblowers had. Cooper and Watkins’ reporting paved the way for enactment of the SOX corporate reform law.
Around the same time, Bunnatine “Bunny” Greenhouse put her job and life on the line by blowing the whistle on a highly improper $7 billion no-bid contract. Greenhouse was the highest-ranking civilian-contracting official at the Army Corps of Engineers. She disclosed that Halliburton was awarded a no-bid contract to repair Iraqi oil fields following the 2003 invasion and had been continuously over charging the government. In retaliation for her disclosures, Greenhouse was removed from her position. After a long and contentious battle, the Army Corps of Engineers were forced to settle and provide Greenhouse with full compensation for the damages she suffered. Greenhouse’s disclosures resulted in major reforms prohibiting no-bid contracts. In 2019, 60 Minutes featured her story.
The last whistleblower we are recognizing today is Kimberly Young-McLear, Ph.D, who exposed gross misuse of power in how the Coast Guard handled bullying, harassment, and discrimination allegations in 2016. An investigation by the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General substantiated that she had been retaliated against for her whistleblowing activity. As a result of her whistleblowing, investigative loopholes for these types of claims by Coast Guard service members and federally employed civilians were closed.
Women around the world continue to stand up and report waste, fraud, and abuse, despite the consequences they so often face. This year’s International Women’s Day theme, #ChoosetoChallenge, is fitting as whistleblowers everywhere continue to challenge unjust and corrupt systems.
We at the National Whistleblower Center know that blowing the whistle is no easy feat and will continue to support all whistleblowers by providing them with legal assistance, advocating for policy protection, and celebrating their achievements. There’s urgent work to do – and we can all play a part.