Firefighter Succeeds in Whistleblower Retaliation Claim Against U.S. Forest Service

A judge awarded a former U.S. Forest Service firefighter $115,000 in back pay, siding with the firefighter in his whistleblower retaliation claim against the Forest Service.

The firefighter, Pedro Rios, claimed the agency “blackballed” him for publicly speaking out against the agency’s loose COVID-19 safety protocols during the height of the pandemic.The decision from the judge was issued in late February.

Case background

Rios’s lawsuit was initially filed in February 2021 when he was denied rehire rights, which is the process all Forest Service firefighters must go through each fire season. This incident came after he had made a social media post that criticized his employers for what he perceived as lax and irresponsible handling of COVID safety guidelines.

That message was posted to Facebook on a community page in July 2020, when he warned local residents that his fire crew would be heading back home without going through a quarantine period after spending a week in southern California which, at the time, was a COVID-19 hot spot.

Rios was questioned by leadership within the Forest Service within hours after making the post and was told that his behavior was “unprofessional” and “rocked the boat.” He was later rejected in his application for the coming fire season despite having consistently received positive performance reviews.

If you believe you have been retaliated against for blowing the whistle on internal wrongdoing at your workplace, contact an experienced whistleblower lawyer at Kardell Law Group for more information about how to proceed with a retaliation claim.