Certification Fraud Continues at CSA
August 9th, 2020
Robert Chan began working for the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) at their Los Angeles office on June 6, 2016. God help him.
Three years later, on September 3, 2019, Robert Chan was fired. Then he filed a lawsuit against CSA claiming wrongful dismissal. The Court filings are awesome, a rolling, rollicking read.
You see, Robert Chan was employed by CSA with the pure-sexiness title of “Certifier III.” In other words, Chan was an engineer and, as it happens, a rather good one.
He did his pre-engineering studies in physics at UCLA, his Bachelor of Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and his Master of Science in Electrical Engineering at Bradley.
Samples from his CV…
“Designed and developed Motor Control Electronics for Actuator used in F-22 Aircraft […] Designed and developed Electronics for a Liquid Level Measurement System Fight Test Prototype for Boeing 747 […] Sustaining and Process Engineering Lead for CDI Blood Parameter Monitoring System 500 […] R&D Hardware Engineering Lead for STERRAD Low Frequency Plasma System from concept to product launch and commercialization.” Impressive stuff, and it goes on this impressively for some distance.
Robert Chan; an egg-head if there ever was one.
According to his legal filings, at CSA Chan’s job “was to inspect and test clients’ products to ensure they met relevant safety standards requirements.” Specifically, “his job was to make sure the Equipment Under Test (EUT) met relevant standards requirement for electrical, mechanical, and fire safety.”
Chan “took great pride in his work and was dedicated to his job. He followed CSA and manufacturer’s guidelines closely and refused to certify products not properly vetted.”
Ah, might be a problem brewing. And here it comes…
“In conducting construction evaluation on EUT, Plaintiff often found supporting documentation issues on safety critical components in existing certification reports previously reviewed by his supervisor and mentor, Calvin Luong. They include part number discrepancies, conformity and marking discrepancies, design control documentation discrepancies, certification report discrepancies, etc. In a few report update projects, he also found systematic issues with EUT name plate marking model/reference number deficiencies on exiting certification reports that did not meet safety standard requirements.”
These problems were seemingly routine at CSA, such that nobody fretted them. Rather, equipment was certified as normal even when the tested product didn’t match the documentation upon which the testing was based. “This,” says the report, “led to conflicts between Plaintiff and his supervisor, Calvin Luong.” I’ll bet it did.
“Mr. Luong’s role was to keep certifications moving through his department swiftly so manufacturers could get through the process as quickly as possible to meet their internal deadlines for going to market. Mr. Luong advised Plaintiff on many occasions he should lighten up his concern over completing the required construction evaluation prior to testing because a manufacturer client wanted the testing and certification completed as soon as possible.”
So, the first problem is that safety testing procedure was being bypassed in order to increase throughput. And that’s just the start.
“On more than one occasion, [the] Plaintiff’s diligence in ensuring a safe product, and the time it took to do so, led to Mr. Luong taking Plaintiff’s assignment away and giving it to a colleague not so concerned with the required CSA certification process. Plaintiff recognized while clients may appreciate breezing through the certification process, the CSA mark was valueless without adhering to standards. Even worse, the products could be labeled certified by CSA, but include components that contribute to violations of federal and/or state and government standards in violation of law, including, but not limited to, OSHA regulation 29 CFR 1910.303, et seq. Ironically, CSA was diligent about rooting out counterfeit CSA marks on consumer and commercial products, but […] it regularly cut corners with its own certification process to give client’s the valuable CSA mark so it could go to market. In other words, CSA was diligent in protecting its profit center, but less stringent in protecting manufacturers and end users.”
Now where have we heard that before?
It seems that Chan is a stickler for accuracy and honest reporting. The legal filing describes Chan this way; “Plaintiff did not like signing off on products or components that did not meet certification steps he was required to follow.”
In the course of his work at CSA, Chan routinely found “numerous errors and / or shortcuts on existing CSA certification reports previously signed-off on by Mr. Luong.” So it wasn’t a one-off; this was normal.
Robert Chan was worried. His job was all about ensuring public safety through consumer product testing, yet what he was finding at CSA was anything but safe. Massive deficiencies “related to quality, integrity, and safety of certified products due to supporting documentation deficiencies on safety critical components, such as markings, assy dwg, BOM, SCD, design control documents, risk assessment analysis reports, etc.” In Chan’s view, “these findings raised CSA accreditation concerns.”
The CSA tests new products of course, but they also test for certification update. We’ve covered this before; it’s basically a re-test of an existing product, often mandated by law, to ensure continued conformity with safety regulations.
When Chan was assigned an updating project that contained “nonconformist” issues, he was often instructed to “seek CSA Technical Advisor guidance to ‘work around’ established safety standards requirements.” That’s a bit worrying. “Plaintiff was often pressured into taking exceptions on required safety requirements.” That’s worse.
Chan wasn’t keen on falsifying CSA’s documents, and CSA wasn’t keen on Chan rocking the boat. Conflict erupted whenever CSA “attempted to force” Chan to certify untested, unsafe, or unlawfully noncompliant products.
The “common refrain” at CSA was that unsafe, untested, or noncompliant products were “close enough” to the law that full certifications should be issued. For his part, Chan “commonly suggested” that compliance with law was obligatory. This, claims the filing, “made him a pariah in his department.”
“The violations, [and Chan’s] complaints about them and management’s harsh reaction greatly affected Plaintiff’s working conditions. Mr. Luong commonly discouraged Plaintiff from raising his concerns in a team setting, claiming it was bad for morale. Plaintiff advised Mr. Luong he was creating intolerable working conditions for Plaintiff by asking him to take shortcuts around rules and regulations. Mr. Luong retaliated in the manner in which he managed and reviewed Plaintiff’s work.”
Got to get those products out the door, safe or not. In this case, that meant active measures to force the projects on Chan’s workload through certification, regardless of compliance or safety.
Things came to a head in the summer of 2019. An existing CSA certification was in for update. The equipment marking plate on the product did not match its internal components. Either CSA falsified the original certification or the manufacturer had swapped components for mass production after certification. Either way, the mismatch meant that this particular equipment with its internal component deficiencies was nonconformist and, with regard to the internal components of the product, untested and potentially quite unsafe.
Apparently CSA didn’t appreciate Mr. Chan’s views on the matter. He was accused of “raising relevant safety standard concerns,” and apparently this is frowned upon. He also engaged in the unpopular pastime of “suggesting clients were being defrauded when CSA certified a product that did not meet all specifications”. The bottom line for Chan was that the clients would “put the product [into] interstate commerce believing it meets relevant safety standard requirements” when, plainly they did not.
Then there’s this line from Chan’s Statement of Claim; “The Plaintiff commonly asked why the relevant standard requirements were not to be followed.”
And this sort of thing didn’t just happen one-on-one, which is corrosive enough, but also featured in quite a few staff meetings. Most engineers on the team were faking the testing that was asked of them, fabricating the compliances expected, and keeping their heads down, so to speak. “Even Plaintiff’s coworkers seemed to think he was too much of a boy scout. The prevailing wisdom was [that Chan] should ‘go along to get along’.”
Well, by the end of July 2019, Chan’s supervisor had written a disciplinary note to Chan’s HR file. The problem, thought CSA, was Chan’s parochial and linear views on integrity, honesty, and those pesky things they’d heard of called ‘laws.’ According to CSA’s disciplinary note against Chan, “relevant standards were malleable.” In this, “the mere fact [that Chan] could not get with the program indicated he was a difficult, problem employee who could not get along with others.” According to Chan’s filing however, he “was raising CSA accreditation concerns because he believed one or more laws were being broken for the sake of efficiency and profit.”
Remember; “the bottom line is revenue generation.” Right?
Things got really bad in August. Watch this….
“On or about August 16, 2019, Plaintiff submitted a CIR on a Universal 601 Medical Cabinet, a computer-aided dispensing machine.” Oh, by the way, did I mention that a lot of the untested, unsafe, uncertified-yet-somehow-certified products are medical equipment? Yeah, that’s what this is all about.
Anyway, the “Plaintiff advised that the product’s AIO (all in one) panels, which on an earlier iteration of the machine had been UL/UR certified, were now utilizing different AIO panels that were not certified. Plaintiff’s issuing of a [failure report] for this reason was in compliance with CSA policy. However, this CIR greatly upset Mr. Luong who believed Plaintiff was making an issue out of nothing. In Mr. Luong’s view, this was just one more example of Plaintiff being overly concerned with compliance and someone who could not go with the flow. By this point, Mr. Luong had enough, and he took steps to terminated Plaintiff. On or about September 3, 2019, just one week after the CIR was issued and assigned to Mr. Luong, Plaintiff was terminated.”
And that’s when Paul Keane got involved. Keane is CSA’s Executive Vice President of Human Resources. I’ve met Keane. I did a few hours’ of negotiation with Paul Keane and Jimmy Lavalley, a member of the Board of Directors. It was interesting, I’ll write more on that later this year. I found Keane to be very engaging, friendly, approachable, wholly likeable while being at once a bit slithery. Paul Keane is like a stereotypical Jaguar driver, as Top Gear described them, saying that; “no Jag driver is entirely trustworthy, but it’s in a really nice, likeable way.” Look, Keane’s not a nice guy, but he’s smooth as glass, soothing -unethical, untrustworthy, unwholesome, an amoral wellspring of scumbucketry of course, but he looks good slithering about, he made his mint by seeming nice all over.
Anyway, Robert Chan wrote to Keane “expressing his belief he was fired in retaliation for issuing one or more CIRs and over the perception he was a ‘difficult’ employee because he wished to adhere to company policy.” So what would Paul Keane, Mr. HR himself, do in the contest between fraud and fortitude? Well, Keane may have been lobbied.
You see, Chan also unwittingly sent the same note to Rich Weiser, EVP of Global Operations. You may recall that Weiser arranged a lovely CSA job for his wife Barbara. As one whistleblower put it, Barb Weiser was entrusted with “marking up the books” on certification compliance, specifically “meaning extra money that was coming from CSA sales to push unsafe certification through.”
So Chan accidentally complained about certification fraud to the husband of one big source of certification fraud.
Ten days after sending his note, Chan received a response from Keane, assuring Chan that his concerns had been investigated “and determined to be unfounded.” Well, ok then.
All this went to court in California earlier this year. And CSA’s response was typical. They didn’t argue on merits, nor on any particulars of Chan’s case. No. They tried to grind him.
First they filed a Motion to Dismiss Chan’s case. That didn’t work.
Then CSA filed what’s called a Protective Order. In practice, a Protective Order seals the case, preventing media, including RestoreCSA, from accessing information on the case or from reporting on the case. In this instance, what CSA tried to pull was a really, really aggressive form of Protective Order covering “any testimony taken or used in this Proceeding.” Everything, in other words.
Well, that didn’t work either. It was too much push, I think, for the Court.
So CSA dulled it a bit and refiled for a slightly diminished Protective Order and, regrettably, on June 16th they got it.
Right now we’re locked out. What we’ve reported above is what we know, and we only know this much because it was filed prior to the Protective Order. But it’s enough, really, to have a pretty good idea what’s going on inside CSA’s Los Angeles office.
Chan’s response to CSA’s Motion to Dismiss sums it all quite nicely. From the filing;
“Robert Chan simply wanted to do his job as a product certifier well, and when he brought information about what he reasonably believed to be violations of law to the attention of his supervisor, Calvin Luong, Plaintiff was terminated in retaliation for doing so.”