Whistleblower Takes Legal Action After Exposing Ongoing Drinking Water Contamination
Delray Beach wastewater inspector who faced retaliation after blowing whistle files lawsuit with OSHA seeking relief
Boca Raton, FL – A former Delray Beach wastewater inspector filed a lawsuit against the City of Delray Beach after she was fired for blowing the whistle on ongoing drinking water contamination.
Christine Ferrigan, a wastewater pretreatment professional with over thirty years of experience, was terminated from her position as Industrial Pre-Treatment Inspector for Delray Beach after she alerted the Florida Department of Health and Palm Beach County Office of Inspector General that reclaimed wastewater was contaminating residents’ drinking water and making them sick.
“Christine Ferrigan was an experienced and conscientious City employee,” said Richard Condit, who co-chairs Mehri & Skalet’s Whistleblower Rights Practice Group. “The type of employee that most taxpayers would want on their payroll. Instead of being rewarded for trying to protect public health, Ms. Ferrigan was harassed and eventually terminated.”
In November 2018, the Delray Beach Utilities Department received calls from residents that their drinking water was smelly and dirty and that some residents were getting sick. After conducting inspections, Ms. Ferrigan informed management that it appeared that reclaimed wastewater, intended only for irrigation, was contaminating drinking water systems.
The Delray Beach Utilities Department eventually reported the contamination issue to the Florida Department of Health but failed to disclose that residents were becoming sick. Ms. Ferrigan grew concerned as she realized that the City was not taking adequate measures to protect residents and ensure clean drinking water.
Ms. Ferrigan continued to work with the Florida Department of Health (DOH) and the Palm Beach County Office of Inspector General (OIG) to bring attention to Delray Beach’s drinking water contamination issues and reporting failures. The DOH and the OIG confirmed Ms. Ferrigan’s findings, with the DOH fining the City of Delray Beach over one million dollars in November 2021 for violations of the Florida Safe Drinking Water Act.
As recently as January 2022, Ms. Ferrigan continued to report to the DOH concerns from city employees and customers about contaminated water. City employees also reported to Ms. Ferrigan that management was falsifying and concealing information. In reality, several major overhauls are required of these facilities in order to safely deliver water.
In response to her cooperation with the DOH and OIG, Ms. Ferrigan’s workplace grew increasingly hostile and she faced harassment and retaliation. In January 2022, Ms. Ferrigan filed a complaint with the City’s HR department. Less than a week later, the City of Delray Beach fired her without notice for the reason of “reorganization” even though her position was funded in the budget for the fiscal year. Now, commercial water purification systems are being required by the state. Water contamination lawsuits are not unusual, just look at this camp lejeune water contamination lawsuit. For decades, officials have been aware of water contamination on this U.S. Marine Corps base.
After being terminated, Ms. Ferrigan filed her initial whistleblower complaint and an evidence preservation request, seeking legal counsel from a whistleblower lawyer. Shortly after this, her son, also a city employee, was fired without notice.
Ms. Ferrigan filed a detailed amended complaint with the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) on April 18, 2022 seeking relief from her whistleblower retaliation. She is requesting reinstatement, back pay and compensation for damage to her reputation, pain and suffering and other damages.
The full complaint can be read here.
Ms. Ferrigan is represented by Richard Condit, Cleveland Lawrence III and Ezra Bronstein of Mehri & Skalet PLLC.