'Whistle-Blowers' Recount Dismissals

Fired Professionals From Polaroid, MIT, Continental Airlines Allege Reprisals

Three professional women recounted their experiences as "whistle blowers" in the corporate and academic world at a panel discussion last night sponsored by Radcliffe Career Services.

The women, who worked at Polaroid, MIT and Continental Airlines, were fired after exposing what they called objectionable activities by their employers.

Caroline Hunter said she was terminated after she and a colleague exposed Polaroid's ties to the South African government in 1971, when she worked as a chemist at the film company. Hunter's protests helped to start the divestment movement in the U.S., according to Radcliffe Career Services Director Phyllis Stein, the panel's moderator.

Margot O"Toole said she was fired after questioning the accuracy of data in a report produced by the head of the lab she worked at as a post-doctoral research fellow at MIT in the mid-1980s. The paper was later retracted by one of its authors.

David Baltimore, the Nobel Laureate who oversaw the research team that O"Toole was involved with, resigned his post last year as president of Rockefeller University, saying that the controversy that surrounded him after the scandal made it difficult to do his job.


Teresa Fischette, another woman on the panel, said she lost her job as a ticket agent with Continental Airlines when she refused to wear make-up, one of the airline's appearance requirements for employees in her position.

All three speakers said that strong belief in their cause helped them to undertake their struggle.

"It was the truth, really, that sustained us," said Hunter. "And sometimes, I think that's all you have."

Hunter, O"Toole and Fischette said many of their colleagues and friends who did not understand their actions made their situations more difficult.

"They told me I was vindictive," O"Toole said. "The person on the other side of the table doesn't understand someone taking an action on principle. So they look for another motive."

O"Toole emphasized the profes sional repercussions of her decision to blowthe whistle.

"I found myself without a job and in completeprofessional isolation," she said.

Each of the three speakers had worlds of advicefor the audience.

O"Toole encouraged support for other"whistle-blowers," while Fischette emphasizedgreater awareness of formal channels for voicingprotest