Cheryl Eckard said she never wanted to become a whistleblower.
But she did—filing a case against her former employer, drug maker GlaxoSmithKline, after she discovered a manufacturing problem at one of the company’s drug plants.
And this fall, Eckard became the largest individual whistleblower award recipient ever, hauling in a $96 million bounty as her reward for providing information to the government.
That money was her cut of a $750 million settlement between GlaxoSmithKline and the federal government.
Her whistleblowing saga started off from Eckard’s perch as a quality assurance manager, where she tried to warn her bosses about a manufacturing problem.
“I discovered that day that there were hundreds of batches of product on the shelves of unknown quantity. That product was mixed up, comingled, in bottles on pharmacy shelves,” Eckard says.
She eventually took her claim to the government, after she was released from her job, a dismissal that the company says was entirely unrelated to her whistleblowing. But her husband still worked at the same company, and Eckard says she feared her job was at risk.
And even today, she becomes emotional as she talks about the risks she took. “They had already let me go. My husband's job was at risk. And maybe they just didn't really think that i would choose millions of strangers over my own husband's well being," she says.
But, she felt she had no choice but to press forward, saying simply, “I had to.”
A Glaxo spokesperson said the company does not believe patients or customers were put at risk by the problems that Eckard spotted, and that it considers quality manufacturing to be fundamental to its mission.