A whistleblower is an employee who reports alleged misconduct within the company, either internally or to external authorities. The misconduct reported usually entails the violation of a regulation or law, such as labor law or health code violations, or other types of fraud or corruption that may affect the public. Both federal and Oregon state laws protect whistleblowers from retaliation by the company, as the government wants to encourage whistleblowers to come forward without fear of losing their jobs or suffering other adverse treatment.
While whistleblowers have protection from retaliation under the law, they are not given full protection for all actions they take related to the case. For example, many whistleblowers want to preserve evidence of their claims by keeping company documents or property that they believe their employer may destroy or may refuse to turn over in the future. However, whistleblowers do not have carte blanche to take anything they want from the company to help support their claims. In fact, in one recent case, a whistleblower found herself facing criminal charges.
Ivonne Saavedra’s Case
Ivonne Saavedra and her son were both employed for the North Bergen Board of Education. Saavedra complained about several labor law violations, including irregular pay, unlawful denial of time under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and improper reimbursement for vacation time. Though Saavedra had tenure, shortly after her complaint the school board fired both Saavedra’s son and his girlfriend, which they claim was meant to punish Saavedra. Both mother and son brought claims against the Board of Education for discrimination and retaliation, respectively.
During the discovery phase of the case, the school board and court discovered that Saavedra had taken 367 documents from her employer, at least 69 of which were originals, and many of which
included highly sensitive and/or confidential information. For example, some of the documents included:
· An appointment schedule of a psychiatrist that treated special-needs students. The document identifies the students who required psychiatric treatment and related medication.
· The personal bank statement of a school parent.· Information regarding confidential medical support needs of some students and related Medicare coverage.
· Letters regarding the confidential emotional problems of a student.
The school board reported the theft of the documents to a prosecutor, and a grand jury indicted her on charges theft and official misconduct. The courts upheld the indictment, and now Saavedra will face criminal charges for her misappropriation of the documents. The court stated the documents were not all directly related to her claims, and she could have obtained copies of needed documents through proper discovery channels.
While employers should be careful not to retaliate against whistleblowers, the employers are also protected from theft of confidential documents or other property. If you have any concerns
regarding whistleblowing, do not hesitate to contact the HKM Employment Attorneys for help today.