Will Kramer knows what it means to be a whistleblower. As a former investigative staffer in the Senate, Kramer has ample experience working with whistleblowers. Later while serving as a health safety consultant, Kramer became one himself when he uncovered deeply disturbing conditions and improper handling of hazardous waste at several Greif Inc. plants. Kramer reported potential health, safety, environmental and securities violations to government regulators, members of Congress and the news media after the plants failed to address these issues. Now, as a law student, Kramer has written an important piece on the whistleblower mindset.
In the lead article for the Wisconsin Lawyer, Kramer examines what motivates whistleblowers and how attorneys can best work with whistleblower clients. Drawing upon his own experiences, academic research, and interviews with other whistleblowers and whistleblower attorneys, Kramer explains that “whistleblowers are primarily individuals who consider themselves to have a strong sense of morality and commitment to their organizations and feel compelled to correct what they perceive as a serious wrong against the public interest.”
Kramer’s interviews with whistleblowers like Fred Whitehurst, Jane Turner, Robert Maclean, and Bradley Birkenfeld show that “whistleblowers live in a world where morals and an organization’s stated values are so much more than mere slogans.” He also cites research that demonstrates “monetary reward was the least likely factor that would lead an employee to report wrongdoing outside their organization,” and a 1989 study found that whistleblowers “believe in absolute moral standards, individual responsibility, and a fierce commitment to upholding moral principles.”
David Colapinto, general counsel for the National Whistleblower Center and founding partner at Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto, also has found “the number one thing a whistleblower wants is the problem [they have identified] fixed.”
In following their moral code, whistleblowers often make enormous sacrifices. Kramer points out that all the whistleblowers said they would blow the whistle again, but these same whistleblowers would discourage others from doing the same. One whistleblower famously advised other whistleblowers to “be prepared to be ostracized, your career coming to a screeching halt, and perhaps even being driven into bankruptcy.” Ultimately, Kramer explains, “the risks of whistleblowing are enormous.”
Attorneys representing whistleblowers, lawyers on the other side of the table, and companies facing whistleblower complaints should all seek to better understand the whistleblower mindset. It is important to understand that whistleblowers are focused on correcting the harm, rather than a payout without reforms. Companies and agencies that have had the whistle blown on them need to understand retaliation won’t work: if anything, it will encourage the whistleblower to stop using internal channels to get the problem solved.
Kramer’s terrific article can and should be read in full, and is linked below.
Read the full article here.
Photo credit: Mike De Sisti / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel