Whistleblowers slap air quality district with lawsuit

Two former Bay Area Air Quality Management District employees have brought on a whistleblower lawsuit against the district, accusing it of improperly destroying records and documents regarding air pollution.

Michael Bachmann and Sarah Steele both formerly worked in the San Francisco-based district’s record retention department.

The pair is alleging that they were wrongfully terminated by the district for trying to preserve the documents, which they say are necessary for the district’s operations and public safety.

Bachmann said in a statement:

“When I was first informed that documents were being destroyed, I though it was an innocent mistake. … When I explained what was going on to my superiors, when I brought my concerns to executive management, I was told that ‘it would be better if these documents didn’t exist and if there was no record that they had been destroyed.’ After my concerns persisted, they fired me and my assistant Sarah Steele.”

Bachmann and Steele are being represented by the law firms Gwilliam Ivary Chiosso Cavalli & Brewer and Rains Lucia Stern St. Phalle & Silver, PC.

Attorney J. Gary Gwilliam said in a statement:

“These are very serious allegations. The health and safety of all Bay Area residents is dependent upon the Bay Area Air Quality Management District properly doing its job. … Without proper documentation, and record keeping by the District, the important safety functions of this regulatory agency are severely impaired.”

Kristine Roselius, a spokeswoman for the district, said in an email that the claims made by former employees have already been investigated by an outside source and were found to be false.

“The allegations were first raised over a year ago and were thoroughly investigated by an outside law firm. The allegations were determined to be false and without merit. The Air District complies with all document retention requirements in state and federal law.”

Both Steele and Bachmann are scheduled to appear at a news conference Wednesday morning in Oakland, along with their attorneys, where they will describe in further detail the alleged destruction of records.