More than 10 years ago, whistle-blower Courtland Kelley told GM about the safety problems and was forced out of his job. Yes – GM, whose failure to recall vehicles with ignition switch failures have cost at least 13 lives.
According to Bloomberg Businessweek, what happened to Kelley reinforced a “culture of complacency” at GM and silenced other would-be whistle blowers:
“On page 93, a GM safety inspector named Steven Oakley is quoted telling investigators that he was too afraid to insist on safety concerns with the Cobalt after seeing his predecessor ‘pushed out of the job for doing just that.’ Reading the passage, Kelley felt like he’d been punched in the gut. The predecessor Oakley was talking about was Kelley.
“Kelley had sued GM in 2003, alleging that the company had dragged its feet addressing dangers in its cars and trucks. Even though he lost, Kelley thought that by blowing the whistle he’d done the right thing and paved the way for other GMers to speak up. Now he saw that he’d had the opposite impact: His loss, and the way his career had stalled afterward, taught others at the company to stay quiet.”
The Businessweek article is long and detailed and well worth reading. I’m glad it’s in Businessweek — that should make it harder to dismiss as left-wing or anti-corporate propaganda.
The story describes a corporate culture of cover-up and reprisal and far more problems than the ignition switch that led to Congressional hearings and the 325-page Valukas report.
Now GM says it’s sorry. GM promises to change the corporate culture.
GM is the tip of the iceberg. How many other private — and public — employers punish whistle blowers? How many others tell employees that they are not allowed to report problems? How many others have a corporate culture that enforces the “see no evil, hear no evil, say no evil” doctrine?
Individuals can take a stand. Courtland Kelley did. The Bloomberg Businessweek article quotes from a deposition in his 2003 lawsuit:
“My job assignment as a GM employee is to make sure that our customers are safe in any way I can. That’s my understanding,” Kelley said.
GM: “But was it your specific understanding that you were charged with responsibility for monitoring information relating to vehicles other than the [small cars]?”
Kelley: “I felt morally responsible—”
GM: “That’s not what I asked you.”
Kelley: “—to fix a problem that I found in a vehicle.”
GM: “Was it part of your job description?”
He felt morally responsible. But moral responsibility wasn’t in his job description. Is it in yours?