(July 13, 2016). The City of Tallahassee City Commission approved a final payment of $1.34 million to our firefighter client following a $850,000.00 verdict in March 2016 in his favor at trial. Our client was severely harassed, and then fired, after he blew the whistle on defective firefighting equipment that he believed endangered the lives of both the firefighters and the general public. The original verdict can be found here.
The additional $490,000.00 settles additional claims for pension benefits, front pay and attorneys’ fees and costs. Front pay is a type of compensation for employees who are wrongfully fired and are not likely to find similar-paying work ever again. Just as “back pay” covers income lost so far, front pay covers income likely to be lost in the future. A news article on this additional payment, which the parties agreed on to avoid a second trial on this part of his claim, can be found here.
Juries have a long history of punishing employers who lash out at employees acting in good faith to report violations of the law in the workplace. There are literally dozens of laws protecting whistleblowers, ranging from state and federal whistleblower laws to the First Amendment of the US Constitution, which protects employee speech on matters of public importance.
I have a similar case coming up for trial in the near future against another government employer. In that case, my client was fired after discovering a memo buried in a file cabinet showing that a real estate developer had been charged “$614.25” in county fees relating to a project, rather than the correct amount of $614,250.00. There is reason to believe the undercharge, and the hiding of the memo, was intentional to favor the developer. Not long after my client reported the wrongdoing, senior county officials – skipping the chain of command and the county’s own progressive discipline policy – reached out and fired him on plainly bogus grounds. The retaliatory firing devastated my client and his family. Two grand juries have looked into the matter, one recommending severe discipline against the county officials who fired him, and the other indicting a county official for alleged perjury pertaining to the matter. I have completed the bulk of the work on that case and will meet with county lawyers soon to see if a settlement without a trial is possible.
State and federal law provide powerful remedies for whistleblowers in the workplace. An expert in employment law and in employee rights can provide clear guidance on job-related whistleblowing, including how to best make such reports and how best to protect against illegal retaliation. An employee-rights lawyer should be consulted before the whistleblowing activity begins, to make doubly sure legal rights are fully protected.