One-time Mars InSight Lander engineer scores $1.5m redress over whistleblower sacking

ManTech was using Lockheed Martin files illicitly, court told

An American jury has awarded $1.5m to a former NASA engineer who was fired by his contractor ManTech in retaliation for his blowing the whistle over documents from Lockheed Martin.

David Lillie was able to "prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that he had a good faith belief that ManTech was committing a fraud or falsehood" against the American government "to obtain the payment of money", according to a US jury verdict (PDF, 15 pages).

ManTech, properly known as ManTech International Corporation, was a contractor on the Mars InSight Lander in late 2014 when Lillie was helping design the spacecraft's High Efficiency Power Supply.

According to Lillie's original complaint (PDF, 22 pages), he needed access to a set of Lockheed Martin-owned Mathcad files, and, the US District Court for the Central District of California was told, there were "unusually strict" controls around these files.

After he asked about accessing the files legitimately, someone hired by ManTech from NASA's famous Jet Propulsion Lab, the JPL, told him they had acquired the files and uploaded them to a shared server. But when Lillie used the files to write a report for his supervisors, a JPL mission assurance manager told him to delete references to them.

Concerned, Lillie went to JPL Ethics Enforcement and ManTech manager Erik Berg. After 10 days he was "furloughed" – American for "suspended without pay" – before being told in January 2015 that he was being sacked with effect from February that year.

The eight-strong jury awarded him a total of $1,505,561, breaking the sum down as:

  • $521,983 for loss of earnings
  • $339,828 for loss of future earnings
  • $321,875 for "past emotional distress"
  • $321,875 again for "future emotional distress"

The jury did not find that Lillie's protected disclosure "was a contributing factor in Mantech's decision to place Mr Lillie on furlough". Neither did it find that he was placed on furlough because he blew the whistle. Nonetheless, it did conclude unanimously that he was fired for engaging in "protected activity" and that ManTech knew Lillie had refused "to participate in an unlawful cover-up of a contractor being provided unlawful access to third party data".

The Mars InSight Lander recently positioned its second instrument on the red planet's surface. ®

Narrower topics

Other stories you might like

  • Mars helicopter needs patch to fly again after sensor failure
    NASA engineers continue to show Ingenuity as uplinking process begins

    The Mars Ingenuity helicopter is in need of a patch to work around a failed sensor before another flight can be attempted.

    The helicopter's inclinometer failed during a recommissioning effort ahead of the 29th flight. The sensor is critical as it will reposition the craft nearer to the Perseverance rover for communication purposes.

    Although not required during flight, the inclinometer (which consists of two accelerometers) is used to measure gravity prior to spin-up and takeoff. "The direction of the sensed gravity is used to determine how Ingenuity is oriented relative to the downward direction," said Håvard Grip, Ingenuity Mars Helicopter chief pilot.

    Continue reading
  • NASA's 161-second helicopter tour of Martian terrain
    Ingenuity footage sent back to Earth via Perseverance, despite looming battery problem

    Video On Friday NASA released footage of the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter flying further and faster than ever before.

    The film recorded during Ingenuity's 25th flight on April 8 when it flew 704 meters at up to 5.5 meters per second.

    In the sped-up footage shown below, the vehicle climbs to 10 meters, heads southwest, accelerates to max speed in under three seconds, and flies over Martian sand ripples and rock fields before landing on relatively flat terrain.

    Continue reading
  • NASA's InSight doomed as Mars dust coats solar panels
    The little lander that couldn't (any longer)

    The Martian InSight lander will no longer be able to function within months as dust continues to pile up on its solar panels, starving it of energy, NASA reported on Tuesday.

    Launched from Earth in 2018, the six-metre-wide machine's mission was sent to study the Red Planet below its surface. InSight is armed with a range of instruments, including a robotic arm, seismometer, and a soil temperature sensor. Astronomers figured the data would help them understand how the rocky cores of planets in the Solar System formed and evolved over time.

    "InSight has transformed our understanding of the interiors of rocky planets and set the stage for future missions," Lori Glaze, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division, said in a statement. "We can apply what we've learned about Mars' inner structure to Earth, the Moon, Venus, and even rocky planets in other solar systems."

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022