Former employees file whistleblower suit against Bay Area Air Quality Management District

Two former employees of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District have filed a wrongful termination lawsuit claiming they were fired after refusing to participate in the illegal destruction of documents critical to monitoring air quality and enforcing regulations, their attorneys said Tuesday.

Michael Bachmann was an IT manager responsible for document and record retention. He had worked with the district for more than 16 years, according to his lawyers.

Steele was an assistant assigned to his team, which was working on an electronic file and software program for the district’s records.

The two allegedly witnessed the destruction of records in violation of state and federal law, as well as district policy.

Bachmann and Steele say they tried to preserve the records and brought their concerns to upper management, but district leadership instructed them to return the records for destruction, according to their attorneys.

They say the documents in question indicated that there had been significant reductions in fines by the district’s legal and enforcement divisions.

“When Michael and Sarah refused to participate in the illegal destruction of vital public records, the District alleged charges of minor policy violations – policy violations that Michael did not commit – and fired them both,” attorney Eustace de Saint Phalle said in a statement.

District officials declined to comment on the lawsuit filed today, but referred questions on the matter to a statement issued in February, after Bachmann and Steele held a press conference on the matter, stating that the data which was allegedly destroyed is available in electronic format and available for public review.

“For nearly 30 years the Air District has retained information in an electronic database for all notices of violation, facility complaints, investigation documents and correspondence,” district officials said in the statement. “All allegations were thoroughly investigated by an independent, third party investigator and were determined to be false and without merit.”

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