Tallahassee — Florida’s program to clean up its waters has been undermined by top state officials who tolerated tainted data, destroyed records and ignored federal anti-pollution rules, according to legal filings posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). These and other allegations are detailed in an explosive whistleblower lawsuit filed today in state Circuit Court for Leon County.
The suit is brought on behalf of Thomas R. White, a scientist with over nineteen years of experience in the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). White was the senior chemist in the DEP’s Port St. Lucie laboratory until he was terminated one year ago. DEP based its action against White on allegations of data fraud but the agency has been unable to identify which particular data were allegedly altered or how.
White adamantly denies that he had altered any data. To the contrary, the suit alleges that he was the one who blew the whistle on an array of embarrassing problems caused by improper oversight of laboratory and field operations. The problems identified by White impeached the integrity of South Florida water quality planning and could disqualify the state for federal grants subsidizing its clean water program.
White is proceeding against not only state agencies but is also suing seven current and former top DEP officials personally, including Pinky Hall, the DEP Inspector General, and current and former top officials in DEP Southeast District headquartered in Palm Beach. The seven counts of the lawsuit include negligent supervision on the part of senior staff within DEP, illegal destruction of records, misuse of office and denial of due process.
The lawsuit charges that the failure by DEP to address the deficiencies that White raised compromised thousands of water quality samples and “delayed by years the cleanup of polluted waters in South Florida.”
The filing of the suit was delayed by the continuing inaction on White’s original whistleblower complaint that he filed back in March 2007 with the Florida Commission on Human Relations. By law, the Commission on Human Relations must investigate whistleblower complaints before they go to court. White’s suit includes the Commission as a defendant and charges it with denial of due process for failing to issue its report within 90 days, as required by law, thus leaving White in limbo since he filed the complaint with the Commission over ten months ago.
As relief White is seeking restoration, back pay and damages. He is represented in this suit by Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney, as well as by Danielle Joyner-Kelley and Elin Erickson-McDaniel, both former Assistant State Attorneys, with the firm of Erickson-McDaniel & Kelley, P.A.