Exxon illegally fired two scientists suspected of leaking information to WSJ, Labor Department says

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ExxonMobil has been ordered to reinstate two scientists who were fired after they were suspected of leaking information to the Wall Street Journal, the US Department of Labor said Friday.

A federal whistleblower investigation found the oil and gas giant unlawfully fired the two IT workers in late 2020. The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration also ordered ExxonMobil to repay the two employees more than $800,000 in back wages, interest and compensatory damages.

A article in the Wall Street Journal last year, ExxonMobil claimed to have inflated its production estimates and the value of oil and gas wells in Texas’ Permian Basin, where much of the US production is located. The story examined the company’s assumption in its 2019 SEC filings that drilling speed would increase significantly over the next five years.

Exxon denied the allegations at the time, saying it was meeting its drilling targets. “Claims about drilling rates are patently false,” an ExxonMobil spokesperson said.

The two unidentified employees “raised concerns about the company’s use of these assumptions in late 2020,” according to the Labor Department statement. Exxon claims it fired a scientist for ‘mishandling company proprietary information,’ according to the Labor Department statement. said, and the other for “having a ‘negative attitude’, seeking other jobs and losing the trust of company management.”

In a statement to CNN Business, Exxon denied the allegations and said it would “defend itself accordingly.”

“The layoffs at the end of 2020 were not related to unfounded concerns raised by employees in 2019,” an ExxonMobil spokesperson said.

Although no employee was revealed as a source for the Journal story, OSHA learned that the company knew that one of the scientists was a relative of a source cited in the WSJ article and had access to the disclosed information.

“ExxonMobil’s actions are unacceptable. The integrity of the U.S. financial system relies on businesses to accurately report their financial condition and assets,” said Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Doug Parker.

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