In the recent case of Whitman v. City of Burton, the Michigan Supreme Court changed the game with respect to the significance of an employee’s motive when “blowing the whistle” against his or her employer for retaliation under the Michigan Whistleblower Protection Act.
Under the WPA, an employer is prohibited from retaliating against an employee for participating in “protected activity,” defined 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) or a federal law enforcement authority (FBI, federal prosecutor, Environmental Protection Agency, etc.).
Until the Whitman decision, some lower courts in the state had interpreted a 1997 Michigan Supreme Court decision, Shallal v. Catholic Social Services, as holding that the primary motivation of an employee in pursuing a whistleblower claim must be “a desire to inform the public on matters of public concern.”
In Whitman, the Supreme Court specifically rejected Shallal’s ostensible requirement that an employee must be motivated by the public good in order to pursue a WPA claim in court. The Whitman decision stated that nothing in the language of the WPA addresses an employee’s motives for participating in protected activity, therefore, an employee’s motive is simply irrelevant. As long as he or she participated in a protected activity and was punished for it by his or her employer, then the WPA will protect that employee.
If you’ve been fired or discriminated against by an employer and believe that your involvement in a protected activity under the WPA was one of the underlying reasons, you may well have a claim for damages based on a violation of the Act. Contact a Sommers Schwartz attorney today to learn more about how we can help!