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Celebrating Black Women Whistleblowers – A Tribute for Black History Month

Throughout history, whistleblowers have played a pivotal role in unveiling injustices, promoting transparency, and advancing social justice. Their bravery often instigates significant reform, serving as a catalyst for change and shining a light on inequities within organizations. During Black History Month, it is especially pertinent to turn our attention to Black women whistleblowers. These three Black women not only fought—and continue to fight—against systemic issues but also face the compounded challenges of racial bias. In celebrating when they blew the whistle, we honor a commitment to truth, accountability, and justice.

How Did Black History Month Start?

Black History Month traces its roots back to Carter G. Woodson, known as the “father of Black history,” who initiated Negro History Week in 1926 to promote education about Black history and culture. Over time, this week evolved into Black History Month, officially recognized in 1976 by President Gerald R. Ford. The choice of February was deliberate, as it coincides with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, both influential figures in the fight against slavery. The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) chooses an annual theme to guide Black History Month celebrations. Additionally, Black History Month underscores the importance of recognizing Black history as integral to American history and not something separate or isolated.

The Courageous Legacy of Black Women Whistleblowers

Whistleblowing, at its core, is the act of exposing wrongdoing within an organization to bring about change. Black whistleblowers have been instrumental in this quest for equity, often putting their careers and personal safety at risk to uphold integrity and justice. The stories of these Black women whistleblowers show the rocky road they have traversed to report misconduct within their organizations and offers some perspective on inequities in whistleblowing.

Bunnatine “Bunny” Greenhouse

Bunnatine “Bunny” Greenhouse worked her way up to the highest-ranking civilian position at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Senior Executive Service (SES). In this position, she reported government contracting fraud on a $7 billion no-bid contract awarded to a Halliburton. While the contractor requested a no-bid, no-competition contract for two to five years under an emergency status, Greenhouse called out the contract as anti-competitive. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted the contractor a waiver. Despite being warned not to speak out, Greenhouse testified before the Senate Democratic Policy Committee in 2005 about the “irregular procurement.” She faced severe retaliation including demotion, racist and misogynistic slurs, and a trip-wire placed in her office resulting in a knee replacement. She was ultimately awarded $970,000 for lost wages and damages in July 2011. Greenhouse said about her whistleblowing, “Let there be no mistake, I was downgraded in performance and removed because I did my job too well … My removal serves to clarify that the power structure will no longer tolerate efforts to curb contract abuse. Regardless, I still believe that Integrity in Government is not an option, but an obligation.”

Commander Kimberly Young-McLear, U.S. Coast Guard, Retired

Commander Young-McLear’s experience in the Coast Guard revealed systemic abuses and highlighted the dire need for reform within military conduct policies. She blew the whistle in 2014 on the harassment and bullying she was a victim of during her military career and the retaliation she faced for this misconduct to the Coast Guard and then escalated her complaints to the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General. In 2019, she testified before a Joint Hearing by the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and the Subcommittee on Transportation and Maritime Security. The DHS OIG report “concluded that in retaliating against her, the Coast Guard violated the Military Whistleblower and Protection Act.” Commander Young-McLear has since retired from the military and continues to advocate for whistleblower protections.

Dawn Wooten, LPN

Dawn Wooten, a nurse who blew the whistle on alleged medical abuses at an immigrant jail in Ocilla, Georgia, sued the private prison company, LaSalle Corrections, for wrongful termination and retaliation in 2023. Wooten’s lawsuit claims she was demoted and eventually effectively terminated after raising concerns about COVID-19 protocols and high rates of gynecological procedures performed on immigrant women detainees without the women’s consent. The lawsuit also alleges racial harassment from the detention center’s warden. Wooten seeks reinstatement, compensation for lost wages and damages, and the ability to communicate freely about matters of public concern. The lawsuitis seen as significant in whistleblower litigation, potentially setting a precedent for workers in other U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers. Investigations following Wooten’s report confirmed many of her allegations, leading to changes in medical practices and ultimately the closure of the Ocilla detention center in 2021.

Anika Collier Navaroli

Anika Collier Navaroli was a former senior policy official at Twitter (now X), leading up to and following the events of January 6, 2021, when the U.S. Capitol was attacked. Navaroli had repeatedly warned Twitter’s leadership about concerning posts that could incite violence, but her warnings were ignored. Despite her efforts, Twitter didn’t adopt policies to address the issue until after the attack, which led to Navaroli leaving the company and eventually testifying before Congress about her experiences. Initially, she testified anonymously, since as a tech worker, she was well aware of the doxing and personal attacks that might result from going public with allegations about the social network. In a recent article by The 19th and The Markup Navaroli spoke about her experience going public in September 2022 before the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, testifying about Twitter’s role in January 6th. As the stories above and Navaroli’s story unfortunately illustrate, Black women whistleblowers face more intense scrutiny, backlash, and discrimination than other whistleblowers when they speak truth to power. Twitter—now X–today has safety features for users to report tweets such as those that led up to January 6th, but as Navaroli reflects, “That is unfortunately the history of technology, Twitter, Black women, right? Our contributions, our brains, our bodies, deteriorate under the weight of the work of doing this thing and creating safety that we don’t ever get the credit, acknowledgement, profit from.”

Whistleblowers play an instrumental role in holding institutions and individuals accountable for fraud and misconduct. The valor of these Black women whistleblowers featured is a testament to their unyielding pursuit of justice and equity. By celebrating their contributions, we acknowledge the significant strides they have made towards fairness in government contracting, reproductive justice, and organizational accountability while recognizing the work that still lies ahead. This Black History Month, and indeed year-round, may we continue to honor the legacy of Black women whistleblowers and draw inspiration from their courage to advocate for a more ethical and equitable society.

If you would like to report government contracting fraud, healthcare fraud, cybersecurity fraud, or customs fraud, contact the whistleblower attorneys at Tycko & Zavareei LLP. Eva Gunasekera and Renée Brooker are former officials of the United States Department of Justice and prosecuted whistleblower cases under the False Claims Act. Renée served as Assistant Director at the United States Department of Justice, the office that supervises False Claims Act cases in all 94 United States District Courts. Eva was the Senior Counsel for Health Care Fraud. Eva and Renée now represent whistleblowers. For a free consultation, you can contact Renée at [email protected] (tel.: 202-417-3664) or contact Eva Gunasekera at [email protected]. You can also go to Tycko & Zavareei LLP’s website for whistleblowers to learn more at

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