Last week, the not guilty verdict announced after the five week-long George Zimmerman trial sparked debates and demonstrations throughout the nation. The office of Florida State Attorney Angela Corey has faced harsh criticism by legal experts and thousands of Americans for its failed prosecution efforts. In addition, Zimmerman’s defense team has made clear plans to file sanctions against the entire prosecution team. However, these are not the only problems for Corey’s office that may arise out of this case. Soon, Corey’s office will likely be on the receiving end of a related employment lawsuit, as well.
The office’s former director of information technology, Ben Kruidbos, alleges that he was fired after he testified at a June 6th pre-trial hearing. Kruidbos testified that Corey’s office had failed to turn over photos to the defense that had been taken from victim Trayvon Martin’s cell phone. Because the photos could have been favorable to the defense, evidence-sharing laws create an obligation in the prosecution to hand them over. Though the judge ultimately found the photos inadmissible and has not yet ruled that Corey’s office definitely violated the law, Kruidbos’s testimony exposed a possible violation and opened the office up to potential sanctions. He was fired almost immediately.
Protections for Whistleblowers
A whistleblower is a term for an employee who exposes potentially illegal or dishonest activity or misconduct within a company, office, or organization. Whistleblowers may report the misconduct internally, such as to a superior or internal affairs office, or externally to law enforcement or other regulatory agency. Because the government encourages employees to come forward and expose wrongful actions, both federal and state employment laws explicitly prohibit public employers from taking adverse action against a whistleblowing employee.
Oregon House Bill 3162, which went into effect at the beginning of 2010, took whistleblowing protections a step further, extending the law from only public employers to private companies, as well. Now both public and private employees will be protected from retaliation after reporting health or safety concerns or violations of the law they witness in the workplace. Some common violations or concerns reported include:
-Unfair trade practices
-Consumption of alcohol onsite
-Not providing required lunch or rest breaks, or other labor law violations
-Violating consumer protection laws
-Any other illegal activity.
If an employee reports any such behaviors in good faith, by law his or her employer may not suspend, demote, reduce pay, discharge, or otherwise discriminate or retaliate against the whistleblower in any way. If an employer does take any adverse action, it is in violation of federal and state labor laws and the whistleblowing employee is entitled to file a claim with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries or, as Ben Kruidbos intends, file a claim in civil court to seek equitable relief. If you believe your employer has violated whistleblowing or any other employment laws, do not hesitate to contact our office to schedule a consultation with an experienced Oregon employment attorney.