Linda Mitchell was a senior electrical engineer technician in the Operations Engineering Department at Arizona Public Service Company (APS). As a systems engineer, Mitchell was required to know all events relating to how the systems operated and was personally involved in maintaining all lighting systems.
In 1985, Mitchell made a report to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) alleging that the emergency lights, which are required to burn for eight hours, were failing. In 1987, she also raised concerns about the configuration control of plant drawings, which resulted in the malfunctioning of the nuclear plant. Mitchell blew the whistle on this safety concern – and as result, experienced retaliation.
Someone at the plant also told a friend of Mitchell that she needed to do her job or else she would end up like the burnt dummy they use during fire drills. She experienced five years of threats like these and retaliation, lasting from 1990 to 1995.
David Colapinto and Stephen Kohn stepped in as Mitchell’s attorneys in her retaliation case. Mitchell was warned by her coworkers to keep a low profile because management wanted to fire her for the reports that she made. She attempted to give a file to an inspector who came to the plant. However, when head officials at the plant learned about this file, they stole it from the inspector so he would not have the opportunity to read it.
Mitchell’s retaliation included harassment which resulted in the deterioration of co-worker relationships and nervousness at work due to threats to keep a low profile. This fear and anxiety caused her to become physically ill.
Mitchell received $50,000 in compensatory damages under the Energy Reorganization Act. This case resulted in progress for whistleblowers in the nuclear field, as this was the first time a decision applying the “hostile work environment” doctrine was successful for a nuclear whistleblower. Punitive damages, however, are not included as a remedy under this act.