A High-Profile Topic
Whistleblowing has been a hot topic in the news in the past year, since the Wikileaks case, and the conviction of Chelsea E. Manning. However, there are many more lower-profilewhistleblower retaliation cases that pop up in the news, highlighting the plight many employees face when they decide to come forward with information regarding their employer, and find themselves in a difficult workplace situation. Many employees must ultimately resort to the protections that employment laws afford them, often engaging in a legal battle with former employers.
The Iowa Case
This week, the Seattle PI reported on a story involving a whistleblower retaliation case that made its way all the way to a jury in Iowa City. In this case, Dennis Smith, a former employee of the Iowa State University, brought an employment lawsuit against the university for harassment and whistleblower retaliation. At trial, a jury found that Mr. Smith was, in fact, the victim of harassment by his superiors at Iowa State, and awarded him $500,000. The jury also found the university liable on Mr. Smith’s whistleblower retaliation claim, and awarded him $784,000.
On appeal, however, things did not go as well for Mr. Smith. The Iowa Court of Appeals reversed the lower court jury’s findings as to the whistleblower retaliation claim. It upheld the harassment findings. Mr. Smith plans to appeal the appellate court’s decision to the Iowa Supreme Court, noting that the appellate court’s interpretation of the state’s whistleblower statute was so strict, that no employee would be protected for speaking out.
Whistleblower Retaliation in Washington State
Federal law and Washington State law both protect Washington employees against whistleblower retaliation. A “whistleblower” is someone who speaks out or raises concern about his or her employer or an organization when he or she thinks that that party is engaging in unethical activity. Retaliation occurs when the employer or organization takes adverse action, such as terminating, the whistleblower.
The general rule in Washington when it comes to firing employees is that they may be fired at any time, for any reason (“at-will” employment). However, an employee may not be terminated for a reason that violates public policy. Additionally, the Washington Revised Code (RCW) provides statutory protection for workers, preventing employers from terminating them if they engage in protected activities. In both cases, an employer terminating an employee for making a complaint regarding harassment, discrimination, for reporting hazardous, dangerous, or unethical conduct or for other protected reasons is prohibited.
If you believe that your employment has been terminated because you made a complaint to human resources or your supervisor regarding harassment, discrimination, or other protected reasons, you should immediately seek out the assistance of an experienced employment law attorney. Contact HKM Employment Lawyers today for a confidential consultation.