DELRAY BEACH, FL – A federal whistleblower investigation has uncovered that Delray Beach retaliated against a city inspector who was fired after finding and reporting faults in the local water system that caused contamination of the public water supply.
After reports of smelly, discolored and sandy drinking water, a Water Utilities Department inspector investigated and identified faults in the municipal system that were allowing reclaimed sewer water to cross-contaminate the city’s drinking water supply. The inspector also participated actively in investigations by the Florida Department of Health and the Palm Beach County Office of Inspector General. The city then removed the inspector from doing inspections and terminated the employee in February 2022, claiming that their position had been eliminated in a reorganization that involved only their job.
On Feb. 24, 2022, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration opened an investigation, and later determined the city illegally harassed and terminated the employee for reporting the pollution concerns.
On April 18, 2023, the City of Delray Beach Commission ratified a settlement agreement, in which the city will pay the former inspector $818,500.
“The City of Delray Beach’s actions toward this worker and its response to concerns about the municipal drinking water supply are deeply troubling,” said OSHA Assistant Regional Administrator Lily Colon in Atlanta. “Our investigation showed that the city harassed and ultimately fired an employee sworn to protect the public for doing their job. No worker should fear being punished by their employer for reporting legitimate safety and health concerns, and OSHA will work vigorously to defend courageous people like this inspector.”
City of Delray Beach’s Water Utilities Department supplies a community of about 70,000 with potable water and reclaimed water and sewer services. These services include daily testing of drinking water and submitting these results to the Florida Department of Health to ensure the drinking water meets state health standards. The department also maintains the city’s water utilities infrastructure, including its sewage system.
OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program enforces the whistleblower provisions of more than 20 whistleblower statutes protecting employees who report violations within various industries. For more information on whistleblower protections, visit OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Programs webpage.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to help ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance.
Editor’s note: The U.S. Department of Labor does not release the names of employees involved in whistleblower complaints.