July 6, 2016
Today the State agreed to pay Don Gillespie $700,000 to settle his whistleblower retaliation lawsuit against the Washington State Ferries. Gillespie is a Shipwright Foreman for the Ferries. He works at the Eagle Harbor Division on Bainbridge Island.
According to papers filed in the case, in 2015, ferry worker Steve Chaussee was awarded $1 million by a Thurston County jury for whistleblower retaliation by ferry management, who perceived Chaussee to be the whistleblower who reported another worker’s charging his time for being at work while he was really away from work coaching baseball. Chaussee was demoted twice as a result, but he was not the actual whistleblower.
Don Gillespie was the actual whistleblower. After he and Chaussee had reported the improper conduct to management without any action being taken, Gillespie hired a third party to take pictures of Ferry Worker Jack Nannery coaching instead of working. Gillespie drafted a handwritten whistleblower complaint, and he and the third party brought the photos and complaint to a meeting with an investigator at the State Auditor’s office, who formally received the complaint and the photos.
The investigator promised them that no one would learn their identities. Under the law, “the identity or identifying characteristics of any person who in good faith provides information in an investigation under this section is confidential at all times, unless the person consents to disclosure by written waiver or by acknowledging his or her identity as a witness who provides information in an investigation.” RCW 42.40.040(2).
In 2009, the State Auditor released Gillespie’s whistleblower complaint to the Ferry’s managers, and it circulated from one manager to the next. At the Chaussee trial, his managers admitted that they could tell from the handwriting that Gillespie was in fact the real whistleblower, but no one in management returned the complaint to the auditor, or made an effort to tell Gillespie that they knew he was the whistleblower. After that, Gillespie alleged he was subjected to a hostile work environment and ongoing retaliation, but he didn’t know why until February 2015, when Vern Day, the Shop Manager, submitted a sworn statement in court saying that he recognized the handwriting. In a later sworn deposition, he admitted to knowing that Gillespie wrote the complaint.
Jack Sheridan, the attorney representing Gillespie said, “We are very pleased that the State came to the table to resolve this case now. This case reveals a significant security breach at the State Auditor’s Office, which calls into question whether the identities of state whistleblowers who report fraud, waste, and abuse will be protected by the very department entrusted to investigate that abuse. We all hope that the actions that led to release of the Gillespie complaint will not be repeated.”
The case was set for trial in February 2017.