- A former HR VP for Citgo has filed suit, alleging she was fired for refusing to commit crimes at the request of the company's former president and CEO — an individual subsequently arrested for corruption and theft (Gomez v. CITGO Petroleum Corporation, No. 2019-11471 (Harris County District Court, May 15, 2019)).
- Marisol Gomez claimed she was asked to execute a $1.7 million contract as part of a multi-million dollar kickback scheme; change Citgo's pension plan in a way that would enrich then-CEO Nelson Martinez at the expense of a charity fund and numerous employees; and approve a contract with a company associated with an international narcotics trafficker. Gomez was fired shortly thereafter. Martinez, the former Venezuela oil minister, was "arrested for corruption and theft," the court documents said, and later died in state custody.
- Her suit alleges she was fired solely due to her refusal to commit these crimes, in violation of Texas law; she is requesting a jury trial and damages in excess of $1 million.
While Gomez remains unresolved and represents an extreme case, it serves as an important reminder to employers that ignoring — or, even worse, terminating — whistleblowers can have dire consequences a company's bottom line and public image.
Employers should actually embrace, rather than shun, whistleblowers, Brad Cave of Holland & Hart previously told HR Dive. Cave said that such a corporate mindset can encourage a culture of improvement and critical feedback. This can allow employers to address problems internally, before concerns result in a lawsuit or an investigation by enforcement authorities.
Notably, this can improve engagement and retention, too. Workers say they dislike being part of a culture that tolerates dishonesty. Nearly 30% of employees have witnessed one or more acts of workplace misconduct over the past few years, according to a Gartner survey, and workers are twice as likely to quit after observing compliance infractions.
Finally, it's crucial to rebuild trust after a scandal or after a culture of dishonesty has taken root. An effective plan could include new leadership, investments in training or a re-examination of the internal promotion process. It's critical not only to establish a plan for repair, but also to manage employee expectations about how long the process will take. As Uber has demonstrated, following reports of a questionable culture that led to the CEO's resignation, redemption is possible: In a recent (leaked) survey, 63% of surveyed Uber employees rated the company favorably on how they were treated and on the company's social responsibility efforts.