Not every whistle-blower case involves corporate malfeasance on an epic scale. Not every whistle-blower case garners the attention of '60 Minutes' or earns a headline in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Most of the time, the case involves a regular employee who reports wrongful or illegal conduct on the part of his employer only to lose his job for his trouble.
That was the situation with a sheriff's deputy in another state who told People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals that a coworker was abusing police dogs. The organization revealed the identity of their source to the sheriff's office, and the deputy was eventually forced to resign. He has filed a lawsuit against PETA, and, in a recent ruling, the court has allowed the case to proceed.
Alan Olson writes this web-log to provide helpful information regarding employment cases. He practices employment law throughout the United States from his offices in New Berlin, Wisconsin. Attorney Olson may be contacted at AOlson@employee-advocates.com with questions about the information posted here or for advice on specific employment claims.
The deputy claims he only spoke with PETA after a PETA employee promised to protect his identity. The promise was oral, not written.
When PETA took its concerns to the sheriff's office, an internal affairs investigation ensued. According to PETA, the investigators, who were law enforcement officers, compelled the organization to reveal the identity of its witness.
The deputy was in a tough spot. He initially told his employer that he had not spoken with PETA. During an interview with internal affairs, though, he admitted he was the corroborating witness. That admission led to an internal investigation of the deputy himself -- he was accused of lying to the police -- and the deputy resigned.
In the complaint, the deputy says that PETA intentionally violated their agreement knowing full well that he would be subject to retaliation. The specific charges include breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, misrepresentation, breach of oral contract and negligence. He is asking for lost wages, lost benefits and lost earning capacity.
PETA responded to the complaint with a motion for summary judgment.
We'll discuss the specifics of PETA's argument in a future post.
Source: Courthouse News Service, "Naming Whistle-Blower Could Cost PETA," Iulia Filip, Dec. 5, 2011