Alma, MI -Gratiot Conservation District officials ordered an employee to ignore pollution violations and then fired her when she refused, according to a lawsuit filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Robin Berryhill served as a "Grant 319" project manager with the Conservation District. Her job was to address non-point sources of water pollution. In January, the Conservation District fired Berryhill for reporting major water quality violations, including pollution discharges and fish kills in Pine Creek, to the state's Department of Environmental Quality, contrary to District directives.
In addition to refusing to obey the illegal orders, Berryhill reported dubious fiscal management of the Conservation District, including the practice of double dipping grant money-accepting payment for the same activity more than once.
PEER, a national environmental whistleblower defense organization, is representing Berryhill in the suit. Scott A. Brooks, an attorney with the firm of Gregory, Moore, Jeakle, Heinen & Brooks in Detroit is acting as lead attorney. The suit, filed today in the state's 29th Circuit Court, contends that Berryhill's firing violated Michigan's Whistleblower's Protection Act. Conservation District officials also violated open meeting laws by holding closed-door sessions to discuss her termination. The Complaint seeks reinstatement, lost wages and other appropriate damages.
"By simply doing her job, Robin Berryhill acted to protect the health of her community from the threat of contaminated drinking water," stated PEER General Counsel Dan Meyer. "This lawsuit will force the Conservation District to answer for its actions."
"It is unbelievable that in the year 2002 the Gratiot Conservation District, an organization charged with protecting the community's land and water, fires an employee for doing exactly that," added Scott A. Brooks. "I think the community will be shocked by the evidence that results from the filing of this lawsuit."
A copy of the whistleblower complaint is available upon request.