In our last post, we began to discuss the story of Courtland Kelley. Kelley was a safety inspector for General Motors and had been employed by the company for more than 30 years before he was essentially pushed out of his job for voicing concerns about safety issues affecting numerous models manufactured by the auto giant.
The public has learned that various GM employees were aware that defective ignition switches were being installed in a number of models over the span of a decade. These defective switches have led to fatal car accidents and a staggering number of injurious ones. Despite knowledge of this defect, GM not only failed to address the issue but cultivated a culture of silence in regards to safety issues affecting its models.
In a 2010 deposition, Kelley indicated that safety audits at GM were revealing the existence of two or three safety defects of a serious nature on a monthly basis. Kelley was discouraged by GM management from providing information about the audit results and was told that his career could be affected if he continued to speak up.
In 2001, Kelley picked up on a potentially deadly vehicle defect and urged the legal department at GM to act on the situation. When GM resisted, Kelley sought protection under federal whistleblower laws and filed suit against the company. Although his case was ultimately dismissed, Kelley took heart in speaking up at the time, confident that his actions would lead GM to change its ways.
Tragically, a piece in Bloomberg Businessweek asserts that a culture of silence regarding safety defects was cultivated at GM in the wake of Kelley’s actions. Had Kelley’s concerns been taken seriously instead of silenced, it is possible that lives lost as a result of the recent GM recall scandal could have been saved.
Source: Bloomberg Businessweek, "GM Recalls: How General Motors Silenced a Whistle-Blower," Tim Higgins and Nick Summers, June 18, 2014