Professionalism/Marsha Coleman-Adebayo and EPA


Marsha Coleman-Adebayo

Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo graduated with a doctorial degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). [1] After leaving MIT she began working for the United Nations where she learned about African developmental issues. [1] In 1990, she joined the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and became a Senior Policy Analyst in the Office of the Administrator. [1] [2] During her time at the EPA, she traveled to South Africa where she was exposed to the horrors of vanadium poisoning that many South African mine workers were facing. Back in the United States, she reported this issue to the EPA but was ignored. She felt that she was being ignored because of her race and gender. She became a whistleblower when she decided to sue the EPA for discriminating against her. Like other well known whistleblowers, including Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning, her actions have faced mixed reviews as she was ridiculed and allegedly continued to be discrimination against for the remainder of her career at the EPA.

Vanadium Mining and the Binational CommissionEdit

Vanadium crystal elektrolytic

In 1995, after Nelson Mandela became the president of South Africa, the United States offered $210-million in support to the newly formed democracy and created the U.S.-South Africa Binational Commission. [3] Coleman-Adebayo represented the EPA as the commission's executive secretary. [4] The commission, led by then U.S. Vice President Al Gore and South African Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, met twice a year to discuss education, agriculture, defense, and trade.[3] One resource the United States imports heavily from South Africa is vanadium. South Africa has the world's largest supply of vanadium and there were several American-run mines in the country. [5] At one American mine, Vametco, workers were dying from vanadium poisoning and children and elderly nearby reported respiratory illness. [6] During Coleman-Adebayo's trips to South Africa, she witnessed first-hand the effects of vanadium mining on the South African people.[4] She reported the problems to the EPA, but her superior told her to shut up. Coleman-Adebayo believes the EPA wouldn't listen to her because they discriminated against her. [4]


Marsha Coleman-Adebayo was allegedly faced with discrimination due to her sex, race, and health. After returning from maternity leave, a white man with less experience became her boss - a position she originally wanted. After complaining, she was told: "You're an intelligent woman; you knew not to get pregnant. How can you make that decision and expect to compete with men?" In 1992, after entering a meeting she was told: "Come on in, Marsha. We'll make you an honorary white man so you can join us."[7] Another supervisor also called her "uppity," a term that has racial connotations. [8] After she told the EPA about the vanadium mines, her supervisor believed she was identifying too closely with the black South Africans and thus needed to understand "which team [she] was on." [7]

Coleman-Adebayo brought up the discrimination to others within the EPA, but she was faced with threats towards herself and her family. She received a graphic rape threat on her secure cell phone. Two people called insinuating a threat to her children as they provided information about her children such as them playing in her front house. [9] The EPA has refused to comment on Coleman-Adebayo's specific allegations, but Jennifer Wood, an EPA spokesperson, denies that the "EPA has discriminated or retaliated against Dr. Coleman-Adebayo." [8]

Whistleblowing against DiscriminationEdit

Environmental Protection Agency

In 1998, Marsha Coleman-Adebayo filed a law suit against the EPA. Coleman-Adebayo claimed that Carol Browner, the EPA administrator at the time, allowed discrimination to persist in the office rather than trying to eliminate it. At the congressional hearing on the matter, Browner's defense was that minorities in senior ranking positions had tripled in number during her time, but she was unable to explain why the culprits of Coleman-Adebayo's claims had not been reprimanded or dismissed. In some cases they had actually been promoted. The jury found the EPA guilty of discrimination and awarded Coleman-Adebayo $300,000. As word of Coleman-Adebayo's case spread, other minority EPA workers came forward with claims of discrimination. One African-American woman said that she was ordered to clean a toilet in anticipation of Browner's arrival at an event. [10]

Coleman-Adebayo continued fighting the EPA. Between 1998 and 2011 Coleman-Adebayo filed nine civil suits against the EPA for job discrimination and civil rights violations. She sued specific members of the EPA and the organization as a whole. [11] After her initial suit, Coleman-Adebayo developed hypertension and the EPA asked her to resign. It is unclear whether the EPA asked her to resign because of her lawsuit or her medical condition, but she refused because the men who had discriminated against her were allowed to stay. The EPA allowed her to work from home until she was demoted to an in office analyst position in December 2004. She continued to work from home until the EPA eventually ordered her into the office in April 2006. She reluctantly complied but was taken away in an ambulance after she became extremely dizzy. Coleman-Adebayo was placed on unpaid leave. [8]


President George W Bush signing the No-FEAR Act May 15, 2002. From left to right, are: Rep. Connie Morrella; Sen. Thad Cochran; Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee; Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner; Dr. Marsha Coleman -Adebayo; Sen. John Warner; Attorney General John Ashcroft; in foreground, Cari Dominguez; Rawle King; in background Leroy Warren; and right, Dr. Ruby Reese Moone.

No FEAR ActEdit

In addition to the numerous law suits, Coleman-Adebayo took her case to legislation and spearheaded a law to protect whistleblowers. The Notification and Federal Employee Antidiscrimination and Retaliation Act (No FEAR Act) was introduced to the United States Congress on January 3, 2001 and signed into law by President George W. Bush on May 15, 2002. [12] The Act is based on Congress's findings that "Federal agencies cannot be run effectively if those agencies practice or tolerate discrimination." [13] The Act requires that Federal agencies provide annual notices to employees about the rights and remedies available under employment discrimination and whistleblower protection laws, train employees at least every two years about those rights and remedies, and submit annual reports to Congress, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Department of Justice, and the Office of Personnel Management outlining the agency's efforts to eliminate discrimination and promote whistleblower protection. Agencies must also detail complaints brought up against them, post on their public website quarterly statistical data about complaints filed with the agency, and reimburse the Judgment Fund for payments made to employees because of violations of discrimination laws, whistleblower protection laws, and retaliation claims. [14]

Impacts of the ActEdit

The Act makes information readily available to the public about discrimination claims filed within Federal agencies. For instance, the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) report for the 2012 fiscal year reports that 185 civil action cases were filed against them under the No FEAR Act; 85 of those cases were disposed, 68 were decided in favor of the department, 12 were settled, and 5 were sent to mediation. The DHS reimbursed the Judgment Fund $1,528,139. Also, the DHS reports that zero employees were disciplined for discrimination.[15] The Department of Energy summarizes their complaint activity over several fiscal years; 65 complaints were filed in 2007, 50 in 2008, 49 in 2009, 61 in 2010, and 68 in 2011. [16] These are just two examples of how agencies are now detailing their actions due to the regulations of the No FEAR Act; however, no analysis has been conducted to determine the effectiveness of the No FEAR Act.

No FEAR Institute, Coalition and BookEdit

Passing a law was not the end for Coleman-Adebayo. She started the No FEAR Institute, a non profit organization committed to education and defense of victims of employer discrimination. [17] She founded the No FEAR Coalition, a group of civil rights and whistleblower organizations. [17] In 2011, she published a memoir titled No Fear: A whistleblower's triumph over corruption and retaliation at the EPA. [18] Furthermore, Coleman-Adebayo serves on the board of the National Whistleblowers Center (NWC). [19]

Professional and Ethical ConsiderationsEdit

Are all whistleblowers professionals? Are all professionals whistleblowers? An important quality of a professional is defiance when defiance is necessary. Whistleblowers, in general, may be considered professionals if their defiance is deemed necessary. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo blew the whistle and exposed the EPA for discrimination based on gender and race. Her actions led to may positive changes including the No FEAR Act, but it seems she may have lost sight of her original missions - aiding the South African miners. Some improvements to the mines were made such as having miner uniforms washed at the mine, decreasing the amount of vanadium miners bring into houses.[7] The EPA also issued a Toxicological Review of Vanadium Pentoxide on September 30, 2011.[20] This review assessed the vanadium oral reference dose, inhalation reference concentration, inhalation unit risk, and cancer weight of evidence descriptor. [20] These were minor changes and none of them were done through Coleman-Adebayo. Her initial whisteblowing may have been necessary in order to raise questions about the EPA's alleged discriminatory practices, but Coleman-Adebayo could have stopped after her initial civil victory. She, instead, chose to continue fighting and write a book. While her career at EPA suffered as a result of the whistleblowing, the attention she gained afterwards has given her fame and success outside of the EPA.


  1. a b c NPR Staff. (2011, September 06) High Price of Blowing the Whistle on EPA.
  2. The No FEAR Institute. Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo Biography.
  3. a b Stremlau, J. (2000, July/August). Ending Africa's wars. Foreign Affairs, 79(4), 117-132. JSTOR.
  4. a b c Coleman-Adebayo, M. (September, 2011). No fear: A whistleblower's triumph over corruption and retaliation at the EPA. Chicago, IL: Lawrence Hill Books.
  5. Rotberg, R. (1980). Suffer the future, policy choices in South Africa. Harvard University Press.
  6. The South African Exchange Program on Environmental Justice. (1995, November 19). Protest at the headquarters of Strategic Minerals Corporation.
  7. a b c Gordy, Cynthia. (2011, November 3) The High Cost of Being an EPA Whistleblower. The Root.
  8. a b c Fears, D. (2006, July 10) Coming soon: A tale of whistle-blowing at the EPA. The Washington Post
  9. Buford, L. (2011, October1 18) EUR Book Look: 'No Fear: A Whistleblower's Triumph Over Corruption and Realiation at the EPA.' eurweb.
  10. White, Jack. (Feb. 23, 2001). How the EPA was Made to Clean Up its Own Stain-Racism. Time.,8599,100423,00.html
  11. Bloomberg Law. (2014, April 2). Search results for Coleman-Adebayo
  12. United States Congress. (2002). Notification and Federal Employee Antidiscrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002. Legislative History, ID: PL107-174. ProQuest Legislative Insight.
  13. Notification and Federal Employee Antidiscrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002, 5 USCS § 2301.
  14. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (2014). Questions and Answers: No FEAR Act.
  15. Department of Homeland Security. (2012) No FEAR Act Annual Report.
  16. U.S. Department of Energy. (2011). No Fear Act.
  17. a b The NO FEAR Institute.
  18. No Fear: A whistleblower's triumph over corruption and retaliation at the EPA.
  19. National Whistleblowers Center (2012) Board.
  20. a b EPA. IRIS Toxicological Review of Vanadium Pentoxide.