A recent decision from the Michigan Supreme Court determined that the state’s Whistleblowers’ Protection Act (WPA) only affords protection to individuals who are actual employees and not prospective employees or contractual employees whose contracts are not renewed.
In Wurtz v. Beecher Metropolitan District, the subject of a Wolters Kluwer Employment Law Daily article, the plaintiff was a county administrator in charge of overseeing a local water and sewage district under a 10-year employment contract. During his employment, he twice “blew the whistle” on a board of five elected water and sewage department officials – once for a suspected violation of Michigan’s Open Meetings Act, and again over concerns of the board’s activities at an out-of-state conference. The plaintiff contacted local law enforcement and a local newspaper to make the reports, which resulted in a sheriff’s raid, criminal charges, and public outcry.
As the administrator’s contract was nearing its end, the plaintiff warned the board that he would consider its failure to renew his contract as a violation of the WPA. The board allowed him to finish his term and receive the salary and benefits to which he was entitled, but refused to renegotiate an employment contract with him.
After trial and an initial appeal to the Michigan Court of Appeals, the Michigan Supreme Court Court found that employees are protected under the WPA if they are discharged, threatened, or the victim of discrimination relative to compensation, terms, conditions, location, privileges or other aspects of employment. Because the administrator was no longer an employee, the boards’ refusal to rehire or renegotiate his contract was not a violation of the WPA.