The most common examples of whistleblower cases are those where an employee reports a company's illegal conduct to a regulatory agency, such as tax fraud or unsafe work conditions. But are you protected if you discover that your co-workers are engaging in illegal activities and you report it to your employer? What if that complaint results in your termination?
The claim against Regis Corporation
A jury in Maine found that Regis Corporation violated the state's Whistleblower Protection Act, when it terminated former employee Valerie Peasley. Regis Corporation operates hair salons nationwide. Peasley discovered that some employees at the salon where she worked were both using and selling illegal drugs in the workplace. When she reported the illegal activity to her manager, she was terminated. What Peasley did not know was the manager and the alleged drug dealers were friends.
Regis Corporation asserts reasons for termination
Like all other employers who terminate employees in retaliation for reporting illegal activity, Regis gave its reasons (excuses) for Peasley's termination. However, her attorneys were able to prove that the company's reason was not the real reason, but instead a cover-up for its unlawful retaliation.
The jury found the termination was actually retaliation
After a trial, the jury awarded Peasley $40,000 in compensatory damages and $80,000 in punitive damages. She was also entitled to back pay, which is compensation for the wages she lost as a result of her termination. The back pay amount will be determined by the court.
What is a whistleblower?
A whistleblower is someone who has exposed alleged dishonest or illegal misconduct taking place in an organization. The misconduct can be a violation of a law or regulation, or a threat to public interest. Common types of misconduct include health and safety violations or corruption. Whistleblowers can make their allegations either internally, to people within the company, or externally, to law enforcement, or the media. Whistleblowers of all types are afforded protection for their actions.
Laws that protect whistleblowers guarantee your right to report illegal conduct occurring in your workplace. If you suffer any form of retaliation for making those complaints, those laws may also protect your employment rights. There are also laws that protect employees from retaliation by their employers. This protection means that your employer cannot punish you for, not only, complaining or reporting illegal activity, but also participating in any type of investigation into such complaints, as well.
If you feel you have been the victim of retaliation for whistleblowing, or if you have any questions regarding your employment rights, please contact Wrady & Michel, LLC, either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880.