The Wisconsin Supreme Court has ruled on a case that could affect certain allegations of whistle-blower protection laws. The case involved a state Department of Justice employee who was reportedly demoted after informing her bosses that sending bodyguards to protect the state’s attorney general at the Republican National Convention in 2008 would be in violation of the law.
According to Wisconsin Public Radio, the then-director of the Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Bureau emailed her supervisors upon learning of the DOJ’s plan to send paid bodyguards in April 2008. While the DOJ did not end up sending the paid bodyguards, it demoted the woman a month later. Not long before that, she had been given a good review for her work performance by her supervisors.
The employee argued that the demotion was a retaliatory action for her advising about the potential violation of the law. Under Wisconsin law, people who are public employees of the state may only attend political events during their off-time rather than as paid workers. The DOJ argued that the woman had given an opinion rather than provided information about violations of the law. In a split decision, the state Supreme Court agreed with the DOJ attorneys.
Whistle-blower laws are in place to protect employees who come forward to report their employer for violating the law. Those who do so and are then retaliated against may be able to file a civil lawsuit in order to recover damages. As this case demonstrates, proving a whistle-blower case can be difficult. People who believe they may have been the victim of a retaliatory action after reporting their employer to the authorities or cooperating with an investigation may want to consult with an employment law attorney.
Sources: Wisconsin Public Radio, “Supreme Court to rule on whether DOJ violated whistleblower law,” Gilman Halsted, Dec. 29, 2015
Wisconsin Public Radio, “Supreme Court: Investigator’s demotion didn’t violate law,” Dec. 30, 2015.