Whistleblower awarded $3.4 million in Shaw case

“A jury of his peers stood up to  corporate wrongdoing and sent a loud  and clear message that whistleblowers that come forward to protect American taxpayers deserve protection, not retaliation.” Matt Singer, attorney for Paul Blakeslee

A whistleblower who sued Shaw Environment & Infrastructure Inc. of Baton Rouge for alleged retaliation has been awarded more than $3.4 million by a federal court jury in Anchorage, Alaska.

Paul Blakeslee was 71 when he wrote corporate parent Shaw Group headquarters in Baton Rouge on Sept. 19, 2008, that a Shaw project manager in Alaska had defrauded both Shaw and the federal government.

Blakeslee alleged the project manager committed those frauds by having millions of dollars in equipment leased at above-market rates from a firm in which the manager held an interest.

Seventeen days later, the Shaw project manager informed Blakeslee that his position had been eliminated, Blakeslee’s lawsuit alleged.

Shaw officials and attorneys denied the retaliation allegation at trial last month.

But jurors decided that Blakeslee had suffered both retaliation and age discrimination.

Before the case went to trial, Shaw Group was acquired by Chicago Bridge & Iron.

Gentry Brann, CBI’s vice president for global communications and marketing, declined to say whether an appeal will be filed in the case.

Brann said in an email Monday: “It is CB&I’s policy not to comment on any ongoing litigation. However, I can tell you the company is firmly committed to a workplace free from any form of discrimination or retaliation.”

In December 2009, Steven John Helstrom, one of the men with the leasing company that Blakeslee complained about, pleaded guilty in federal court in Fairbanks, Alaska, to one count of theft on a government reservation.

Helstrom also signed a statement in which he admitted that from January 2006 through March 2008 he stole a generator, a compressor and other federal government property that had a combined value of more than $20,000.

Helstrom was sentenced in March 2010 to 75 days in prison and two years of post-prison supervision by federal investigators.

None of the other members of the leasing company was charged with any offense.

In a written statement, Howard Trickey, an attorney for Blakeslee, said his client’s civil suit against Shaw “was a classic David vs. Goliath battle between a hard-working man who chose to do the right thing against one of the largest companies in America. Instead of thanking Blakeslee for blowing the whistle, Shaw fired him.”

Matt Singer, another attorney for Blakeslee, said in a written statement: “A jury of his peers stood up to corporate wrongdoing and sent a loud and clear message that whistleblowers that come forward to protect American taxpayers deserve protection, not retaliation.”