A General Motors employee who worked in the automaker’s quality department and noticed obvious safety issues in certain vehicles was moved to a new position following his discoveries and instructed to “not find every problem that GM might have,” according to a detailed Bloomberg Businessweek report.
Courtland Kelley, who has worked at GM for 30 years and still does to this day, was transferred from his safety inspector position in 2002 after he pushed for a recall of the Chevrolet TrailBlazer SUV, which he found to have a leaking fuel line. The following day, he began to receive reports of the same issue occurring all over the country and his worries began to mount. He eventually got his way when GM recalled 60,044 TrailBlazers, GMC Envoys and Oldsmobile Bravadas in April of 2002, but Kelley was then transferred to new a position away from the quality audit.
Kelley didn’t give up, and in an email addressed to his boss at the time, Keith McKenzie, Kelley said it was his “belief that General Motors is violating the law by not properly dealing with safety issues that are persistent and ongoing,” and that he had “spent several years trying to work through the system at General Motors to address these concerns with a goal of protecting our customers and stockholders.”
Kelley sued GM in 2003 for delaying to address obvious issues in its vehicles, but he eventually lost the suit after it was determined the law required a ‘whistleblower’ to prove he had suffered for his actions, and Kelley still had a job with the company with full pay and benefits.
On page 93 of independent investigator Anton Valukas’ scathing report on GM, Kelley is mentioned when safety inspector Steven Oakley said he was too reluctant to bring up new safety concerns with the Cobalt after watching the man he replaced, Kelley, get “pushed out of the job for doing just that.”
Kelley’s troubled career spent battling GM executives is evidence of the ‘GM Nod’ that was brought up in the Valukas Report. The nod, or ‘GM Salute’ as its also been called, refers to when problems were brought up to GM executives and they would act like they were going to take action, but in the end would do nothing.
Kelley still has a job with GM, but Bloomberg couldn’t dig up exactly what his position was. CEO Mary Barra has since pledged to fix GM’s flawed internal culture and complicated bureaucracy, in addition to encouraging employees to speak up through its new ‘Speak Up For Safety’ program.