Golf Course Worker Files OSHA Whistleblower Charge Against Southwestern Oklahoma Development Authority
On September 15, 2010, Gy Bennar, a former landscaping and maintenance worker for the public golf course at the Clinton-Sherman Industrial Airpark (CSIA), filed a whistleblower retaliation charge against the Southwestern Oklahoma Development Authority (SWODA), which manages the course, for terminating him in violation of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (Clean Water Act) and the Safe Drinking Water Act. According to Bennar's complaint, SWODA fired him one week after he reported illegal wastewater treatment practices at the golf course to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality.
In June 2006 it became apparent to Bennar that SWODA was irrigating the golf course with untreated effluent from sewage that had not undergone proper filtration or chlorination, exposing both golfers and workers to potentially harmful toxins, especially during heavy rains. The practice also endangered members of the public who relied on downstream water sources for drinking water. Bennar took steps within SWODA to alert his superiors to the problems and to devise solutions, which he claims SWODA ignored for years.
Bennar's worries about the dangers posed by SWODA's water management system were heightened in March 2010 when he earned a Class D wastewater license from the DEQ and learned that SWODA's practices were not only potentially harmful, but also illegal. He reported these violations to the Oklahoma DEQ and the EPA on August 6, 2010. According to Bennar's charge, on August 9 SWODA learned of his complaints and demanded an explanation for his contacts with the environmental agencies. The complaint alleges that Bennar's supervisors threatened his job for speaking with the agencies.
On Monday, August 16, 2010, one week after learning of his EPA and Oklahoma DEQ complaints, SWODA terminated Bennar's employment without explanation. He has asked OSHA to investigate his firing and issue an order awarding an appropriate remedy, which may include reinstatement and monetary damages.
Bennar's attorney, David J. Marshall of the Washington, D.C., law firm of Katz, Marshall & Banks, said he is confident that Bennar will prevail before OSHA. "Gy risked his job to stop dangerous polluting of a golf course and adjacent waterways," Marshall said. "He placed the public health and safety above his own concern about his livelihood, which is not easy in this economy." Marshall added that Bennar's firing is "just the kind of wrongdoing that the anti-retaliation provisions of the federal environmental laws are designed to protect against."