Indian wins $500,000 in damages
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Indian wins $500,000 in damages

Seema S Bhat has had the last word in her battle with the high and mighty of Washington DC, writes S Rajagopalan.

india Updated: Nov 07, 2005 10:27 IST

Seema S. Bhat, a gutsy Indian whistle-blower, has had the last word in her battle with the high and mighty of Washington DC's city administration.

Two years after she was fired for exposing excessive lead levels in the water supplied to Washingtonians, a judge has reinstated her as the city's water quality manager -- and awarded her a package of compensation and costs totalling over $ 500,000 (Rs 2.25 crore).

It's a full-scale vindication for the 59-year-old Bhat, who was sought to be punished by her superiors in the Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) for taking the contamination issue directly to the US Environment Protection Agency (EPA).

The red flag raised by Bhat in early 2003 led to widespread public concern that forced WASA to distribute free water filters to residents. It also agreed to replace more than 20,000 lead service pipes by 2010. And by June 2004, EPA ruled that WASA had indeed violated the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

Back in the summer of 2003, a federal investigator had pronounced that Bhat should be reinstated. That was after Bhat had challenged WASA under federal laws to protect whistle-blowers. But the agency's bosses decided to appeal, giving in the process a twist to Bhat's sacking. They held her to be an abrasive employee whose failure to follow orders led to delays in dealing with the contamination problem.

Finally, WASA's labours proved to be in vain this week with Stuart A. Levin, an administrative law judge for the US Department of Labour, handing his 186-page ruling. The judge simply held that Bhat had been fired for having "become an unwelcome whistle-blower" who engaged in activities protected by the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Bhat said in a statement: "I have mixed feelings about returning, but I loved my job. That is what they objected to, the fact that I really cared."

First Published: Nov 07, 2005 01:47 IST