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. ®