Special Reports

Judge Awards Former WWU Auditor $3 Million in Whistleblower Lawsuit


In a significant legal victory, a former auditor at Western Washington University (WWU) has been awarded $3 million in a wrongful termination lawsuit against the university.

Antonia Allen, who served as the director of WWU's Office of the Internal Auditor, filed the lawsuit in December 2020 after being fired for uncovering systemic falsification of attendance records within the Woodring College of Education. The case sheds light on the challenges faced by whistleblowers and the importance of protecting those who speak out against misconduct.

Judge Awards Former WWU Auditor $3 Million in Whistleblower Lawsuit

(Photo : WIKIMEDIA COMMONS / Andrew Kvalheim)

Championing Integrity: The Whistleblower's Plight

Antonia Allen's journey from an auditor to a whistleblower began when she discovered a disturbing pattern of falsified attendance records within the Woodring College of Education. These records were being altered to show that students were attending classes, thus allowing them to continue receiving federal financial aid, even though they were not actually attending. This practice, known as creating "ghost courses," was brought to light in a 2020 investigation by The Seattle Times.

Allen's decision to report this misconduct was met with swift retaliation from WWU, culminating in her wrongful termination. Her predecessor, Matthew Babick, had also faced similar challenges when he was fired after investigating a former president's travel expenses. Babick settled out of court for $216,000, highlighting a troubling pattern of retaliation against those who raise concerns about wrongdoing within the university.

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A Legal Battle for Justice

Allen's lawsuit against WWU was based on the Washington State Whistleblower Protection Act, which prohibits retaliation against employees who report improper governmental actions. The case went to trial, and a county jury found in Allen's favor, ruling that WWU had indeed retaliated against her. The $3 million award included compensation for back and front pay, as well as damages for emotional harm.

The significance of Allen's victory extends beyond the monetary award. It serves as a reminder of the importance of protecting whistleblowers and ensuring that they are not silenced or punished for speaking out against corruption and misconduct. Richard Chambers, former president of the Institute of Internal Auditors, described Allen's settlement as one of the largest he had seen for this type of case, underscoring the impact of her courage in coming forward.

Implications and Lessons Learned

The outcome of Antonia Allen's case has broader implications for the culture of accountability within academic institutions and beyond. Whistleblowers play a crucial role in uncovering wrongdoing and promoting transparency, yet they often face significant risks in doing so. Allen's case highlights the need for robust whistleblower protection laws and mechanisms to ensure that those who report misconduct are not unfairly targeted or penalized.

In response to the lawsuit, WWU issued a statement emphasizing its commitment to compliance and integrity. The university stated that it had made changes to its policies and procedures to address the issues raised in the case. While these steps are positive, they also underscore the need for institutions to proactively foster a culture of accountability and ethical conduct, where employees feel empowered to raise concerns without fear of reprisal.

Antonia Allen's journey from auditor to whistleblower to victorious plaintiff is a testament to the importance of upholding integrity and accountability in all aspects of governance. Her courage in challenging wrongdoing within WWU has not only resulted in a significant legal victory but has also sparked a conversation about the role of whistleblowers in promoting transparency and ethical behavior. As institutions and individuals, we must learn from Allen's experience and strive to create environments where speaking out against misconduct is not only encouraged but protected.

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