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People's Law Guide


Whistle Blower Law: Legal Recourse for Honest & Ethical Employees



      Honesty should be the best policy.  But at too many workplaces, bosses retaliate against workers who object when employers break laws or ask workers to participate in illegal acts. Although Florida’s Whistle-Blower law should stop employers from lashing out against employees who object to wrongdoing or report it, many workers claim that their efforts to force ethical employer behavior have led to demotions, firings and other types of punishment.

      Drew Rosen, a one-time manager at a Miami-Dade County building supply company, thought he was doing the right thing by informing upper management that he believed co-workers were intentionally deceiving customers about the firm’s products. Instead of being commended, the five year employee was transferred to what he says was a less desirable position in Arizona. Rosen says KCG, Inc. also cheated him out of valuable stock options.  Despite KCG, Inc.’s claims that Rosen failed to properly exercise his stock options and that the transfer was routine, a judge ordered the company to pay him $325,000.

      After being fired from the Central Florida Lions Eye & Tissue Bank, Marlene Maisonville provided powerful testimony when describing that she was axed for complaining of falsified records and repeated misuse of equipment which led to unhealthy tissue transplants. Maisonville also complained of sexual harassment.  Jurors awarded her $132,380 for lost wages and emotional pain and suffering.

      Florida’s Whistle Blower Act provides recourse to workers who believe their bosses punished them for encouraging adherence to local ordinances, regulations and state and Federal laws. The law provides private sector workers with protections in three types of circumstances:
1. Objecting to or refusing to participate in an illegal act;
2. Assisting a governmental agency in an ongoing investigation into an employer’s illegal acts; and
3. Threatening to disclose or actually informing governmental agencies of illegal acts after first providing written notice that such disclosures will be made unless the illegal activity stops.
      Recently, Florida’s Supreme Court made the Whistle Blower Act more employee-friendly.  Some trial judges had been dismissing Whistle Blower lawsuits where workers objected verbally but not in writing to illegal acts committed by the entities employing them or when refusing to participate in the wrongful conduct. Judges have been instructed that the requirement that workers first provide written warnings to employers be applied only where employees reported misconduct to governmental agencies or threatened to do so.

      Employees who wage successful Whistle Blower lawsuits are entitled to compensation for their economic damages, which may include back wages and reduced future earnings. Additional monies may be awarded for emotional pain and suffering.  Also, the Whistle Blower Act may require that the losing party pay the winner’s attorneys fees and certain litigation expenses.
Retaliatory employment actions less severe than firings are also made illegal. Demotions, wage reductions, suspensions, reductions in benefits, bad faith decisions concerning transfers and denials of raises and promotions are also illegal forms of Whistle Blower punishment.

      The law does not state whether punitive damages may be awarded in cases of this type. However, when retribution takes the form of bad-mouthing, Whistle Blower victims often may sue for defamation of character. Florida’s defamation law specifically permits awards for punitive damages. Persons who complain of discrimination targeting themselves or others are also susceptible to punishment. Retaliation provisions in state and Federal anti-discrimination laws permits the awarding of punitive damages in these types of Whistle Blower claims.

      Government workers also benefit from special Whistle Blower laws. Frederick Bothe, a former supervisor at a Delray Beach water treatment plant, filed a lawsuit alleging he was fired for reporting that chemicals were pumped into wells containing drinking water.  Palm Beach County officials concluded the discharge was illegal.  Delray Beach settled the case with a pre-trial $28,500 payment.

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