California’s whistleblower laws prohibit employers from retaliating against workers who contact the authorities, cooperate with investigators, or otherwise disclose information when said workers have reason to believe their employers have violated the law.
This doesn’t mean retaliation against whistleblowers never occurs in California. When it does, it will often take the form of termination. An employer might simply fire a worker who has reported a violation to law enforcement or other such relevant agencies.
An employee who was retaliated against in this manner can potentially seek compensation and/or reinstatement by taking legal action. However, as one recent example illustrates, these cases can be fairly complex.
This case involves a former employee of Sacramento County who was fired from her job as an administrative analyst. Prior to her termination, said the employee had filed a report indicating she was working below her service classification.
Believing this was the reason she had been fired, the employee sued the county, claiming she’d been the victim of unlawful retaliation.
The lawsuit was initially dismissed by the trial court before a trial could begin. The employee appealed.
The court made it clear that for an employee to prove they have a valid unlawful retaliation case, they must demonstrate they were fired (or otherwise retaliated against, such as being denied a promotion) because they engaged in actions or behaviors that are protected under California law. Whistleblowing would be one such behavior.
The court stated that, if an employee is able to provide evidence they have a valid case, it then becomes the employer’s responsibility to show that they would have terminated said employee even if they had not been a whistleblower. Essentially, in these circumstances, an employer must prove they had a legitimate and legal reason for terminating an employee.
The appellate court in this case ultimately ruled in favor of the employer. The court justified this decision by first indicating that there was some degree of uncertainty regarding whether the employee who filed the lawsuit had met her required burden of proof. In California, an employee is protected against retaliation from an employer when they disclose information they believe indicates their employer has broken the law.
A law had not been broken simply because this employee was working below her service classification. It was also unclear to the court whether the employee would have hada valid reason to believe this did constitute a violation of the law.
The court also found that the employer had been able to show that this employee was fired for reasons unrelated to whistleblowing. In the future, this ruling could impact whether terminated employees move forward with unlawful retaliation lawsuits.
This isn’t meant to discourage you from doing so if you believe you have a valid case. It’s meant to encourage you to enlist the help of a qualified lawyer who can review your case and help you better understand if it has merit.
Do you think you have been the victim of retaliation at work? If so, a Los Angeles unlawful retaliation attorney at JML Law, A Professional Law Corporation will gladly discuss your legal options with you. Learn more about how we can help by contacting us online today or calling us at 818-610-8800.