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Department of Labor Rules in Favor of Whistleblower

Nuclear regulatory manager Beth Wetzel spoke out about her supervisor Erin Henderson while employed at the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). Between 2016 and 2018, Wetzel filed multiple nuclear safety complaints with Henderson and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission regarding violations of worker fatigue rules. Henderson responded with complaints of her own, alleging that Wetzel and other nuclear oversight staffers with similar complaints were creating a “hostile work environment” and being insubordinate.
An in-house attorney investigated in response to the complaints. The attorney asked Wetzel for feedback about Henderson. She responded that Henderson was “too young” to be a director and that she could be “vindictive.” Wetzel was fired for insubordination and filed a wrongful termination complaint with the Labor Department. After reviewing the matter, the US Department of Labor concluded that the TVA took “adverse action” against Wetzel because of her participation in the investigation. It found that she had properly raised her safety concerns and provided “honest” feedback about her supervisor. According to news reports, Wetzel is the fourth TVA nuclear oversight staffer to claim retaliation after bringing forth safety complaints. The TVA must restore Wetzel’s job and pay her more than $200,000 in back pay, lost benefits, damages, and legal fees.
The TVA has indicated that it plans to appeal the ruling by the federal agency.