Appellate ruling in whistleblower case could affect WI law

A recent federal appellate court ruling in a whistle-blower case has the potential to affect how Wisconsin and other states handle whistle-blower discrimination and retaliatory discharge claims. In its ruling, the court overturned a district court’s decision to dismiss a whistle-blower claim. The appeals court also ruled the whistle-blower has a right to a jury trial on his claim.

In the case, a man who served as a research scientist in a company’s plan to dispose of hazardous waste was fired by a subcontractor company that was engaged in construction of the plant that was intended to deal with the waste. The firing came after a series of emails between the subcontractor and the primary contractor on the work site. The plant’s construction had been stopped following the plaintiff’s reporting of technical and safety issues with the construction.

By reinstating the case against the subcontractor and allowing the plaintiff to proceed by jury trial, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals placed the whistle-blower on equal footing to other types of discrimination plaintiffs. Previously, whistle-blower cases did not proceed by trial to a jury. This change has the potential to change how these types of claims are handled in Wisconsin as well as in other states. There is no word on whether the defendants will attempt to get a writ of certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court. The case is currently expected to go to jury trial next year.

Laws are in place both in Wisconsin as well as federally that are designed to protect employees who report illegal activities on the part of their employers to the appropriate regulatory bodies. When people report, their employers are forbidden from retaliating against them for doing so. Unfortunately, sometimes employers will attempt to retaliate against a whistle-blower employer despite the law. By filing a claim, the employee may be able to recover damages.

Source: ABC News, “Court Reinstates Whistleblower Case at Nuke Site”, November 10, 2014

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