Businessweek’s Tim Higgins and Nick Summers report that a code of silence prevailed during the years that design flaws allegedly led to at least 13 deaths and 54 crashes.
The pair tell the story of Courtland Kelley, a 30-year GM employee and former head of the firm’s nationwide inspection program. He sued GM in 2003 under a Michigan whistleblower law, alleging that the company repeatedly ignored or dragged its feet on his reports of design flaw dangers. The case was dismissed on procedural grounds, but Kelley says that his career at the firm began to stall — and that others interpreted how GM handled his case as a warning Businessweek:
Kelley’s fate has taught other GM employees to be less vocal about their concerns — and specifically influenced a GM safety inspector for the Cobalt named Steven Oakley. Oakley is quoted in the Valukas Report as having been too afraid to insist on safety concerns with the Cobalt after seeing his predecessor ‘pushed out of the job for doing just that.’ Businessweek has confirmed that predecessor is Courtland Kelley.
Higgins and Summers find other examples, writing that “speaking up was actively discouraged, and workers saw that pointing out safety flaws could derail their careers. When a GM employee did blow the whistle, the nation’s largest automaker shut him down.”
CEO Mary Barra returns to Washington to address Congress today.