In late 2020, ExxonMobil fired two computational scientists who the company suspected leaked information to the Wall Street Journal. However, following a federal whistleblower investigation, OSHA concluded that ExxonMobil’s actions were illegal.
The Wall Street Journal published the article in question two years ago and alleged ExxonMobil inflated production estimates and the value of oil and gas wells in the Texas Permian Basin.
Additionally, the Wall Street Journal reported a possible inaccuracy regarding ExxonMobil’s claim from a 2019 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that drilling speed would increase over five years.
But neither of the scientists were named as a source in the article.
When ExxonMobil fired the scientists, the company cited mishandling of proprietary company information, having a “negative attitude,” losing the company management’s confidence and looking for other jobs.
OSHA uncovered that ExxonMobil knew one of the terminated scientists was a relative of a source the Wall Street Journal article used and would have had access to the information featured in the publication.
OSHA also decided the alleged disclosure is protected under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, a federal law that established auditing and financial regulations for public companies. OSHA subsequently ordered ExxonMobil to reinstate the scientists and pay them over $800,000 in back wages, interest and compensatory damages.
Doug Parker, an assistant secretary for Occupational Safety and Health, described ExxonMobil’s actions as “unacceptable” and said, “The integrity of the U.S. financial system relies on companies to report their financial condition and assets accurately.”