We’ve heard the term “whistleblower” a lot in recent years – with good reason. Companies don’t always play by the rules, prompting conscientious employees to report illegal activities to the authorities. Many times, however, employers discriminate against or fire employees in response. That, too, is illegal, according to the protections offered by Michigan’s Whistleblowers Protection Act (“WPA”).
Here’s how it works…
If you believe that you’ve been the subject of the retaliation described above, you need to show that:
- You were engaged in “protected activity” as defined by the WPA,
- You were discharged from your job, threatened, or discriminated against, and
- A causal connection exists between the protected activity and the discharge.
The WPA defines a “protected activity” as:
- Reporting a violation of a law, regulation, or rule to a public body,
- Being about to report such a violation to a public body, or
- Being requested to participate in an investigation by a public body.
A “public body” includes a state, county, or local government entity (i.e., police department, county prosecutor, Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs) or a federal law enforcement authority (F.B.I., federal prosecutor, Environmental Protection Agency, etc.).
There are different kinds of whistleblowers, depending on the situation. Some examples…
In one case, a nursing home employee who reported incidents of suspected patient abuse to state investigators was terminated by her employer one week later, and subsequently filed a lawsuit claiming that she was terminated in retaliation for her reports to the authorities. The jury that heard the case agreed, and rendered a verdict in favor of the employee. This situation illustrates a “Type 1” whistleblower – an employee who, on her own initiative, took it upon herself to communicate the employer’s wrongful conduct to a public body.
In another case, a police commander who chaired a board of review investigating a highly publicized death was subpoenaed to give a deposition in another lawsuit brought by a former employee claiming wrongful termination. In his deposition, the commander testified that department rules concerning the board of review were violated and that the board was not allowed to perform its duties. Although he didn’t necessarily testify about a specific violation of law committed by the city, he directly contradicted several witnesses and substantiated many of the former employee’s claims. When the commander was later fired, he brought his own civil suit. A jury then found that he was terminated in retaliation for providing his deposition testimony and awarded him a $1.08 million verdict on his WPA claim. This is an example of a “Type 2” whistleblower – an employee who participates in a previously initiated investigation or hearing at the request of a public body.
The time to bring a lawsuit under the WPA is very short – the law requires that an employee file his or her claim within 90 days of the alleged violation. If the employee’s claim is successful, remedies include job reinstatement, back pay, front pay, attorney fees, and costs.
If you’ve been fired or discriminated against by an employer and believe that one of the underlying reasons was your involvement in a protected activity, you may well have a claim for damages based on a violation of the Michigan Whistleblower Protection Act. We would be happy to evaluate your case and help you determine your rights under the law.