Discovery under way in Nicor whisteblower lawsuit
By Matt Hanley email@example.com October 30, 2012 6:58PM
The face of Bruce Brummel bears the sunken eyes and temples which, according to one doctor, are clear signs of the toxic poison in his body. | File Photo
Updated: October 30, 2012 8:28PM
WHEATON — At a brief court hearing Tuesday morning, attorneys for Nicor said they expect to begin taking statements from a former employee who alleges he was fired for telling government officials about contaminated water in an Aurora building.
One year ago, Bruce Brummel of Aurora re-filed a civil suit in Cook County Court, alleging Nicor violated the state’s Whistleblower Act and punished him for speaking out. The suit was transferred to DuPage County in April, according to court records.
On Tuesday in the DuPage County Courthouse, an attorney for Nicor said he had received documents from Brummel’s lawyer. The Nicor attorney expected to take depositions from Brummel before the next court date, scheduled for Feb. 5, 2013. The case is being heard by Judge Dorothy French Mallen.
Brummel has claimed for years that he and other employees were sickened by drinking contaminated water at Nicor’s former facility at 408 S. River St. in Aurora. Brummel said his debilitating joint and digestive pain were caused by methylene chloride from a boiler leaking into drinking water at the building. The building was demolished in 2009.
For years, Nicor had repeatedly and vigorously refuted Brummel’s version of events, calling his claims unfounded.
Brummel said he talked to supervisors at Nicor, but did not get a satisfactory answer, so he called outside regulatory agencies. On Oct. 14, 2003, the Nicor building was closed after a city inspection found the building was missing a backflow device which would have prevented chemically treated water in a boiler from mixing with the drinking water.
Nicor officials have repeatedly said the issue of improper backflow was investigated in 2003 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, Illinois Attorney General and the city of Aurora, and the company was cleared of any wrongdoing.
According to the lawsuit, after taking concerns outside the company, Brummel was labeled a troublemaker, and other employees were advised to look for minor infractions committed by Brummel. According to his personnel records made available to The Beacon-News, Brummel was reviewed 24 times in eight months — including one month when he was reviewed five times.
On April 15, 2004, Brummel was fired. A letter from Nicor’s human resources department says he was terminated for failure to turn in medical documents.
The suit claims Brummel’s supervisors failed to process his medical leave papers and deliberately frustrated his attempts to claim benefits.
The suits asks that Brummel get his job returned with back pay — at least $600,000 in compensatory damages — and twice that amount in punitive damages.
In November 2011, Nicor agreed to pay a $125,000 workers’ compensation settlement to Brummel. Brummel filed the workers’ compensation claim in 2006, arguing that he was injured by exposure to the water. The settlement called the payment a compromise to end litigation, not an admission of any liability. The company denied any wrongdoing.