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Whistle-Blower or news source? Either way, she’s out of a job

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Can you fire someone for speaking to the press? According to one court’s reasoning, it’s possible.

A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit by Denise Hughes, a former program coordinator for the Region VII Area Agency on Aging, located in Bay City. Three months after talking about her boss to a Bay City Times reporter, Hughes lost her job.

Hughes had discussed her boss, Bruce King; his job performance; a sexual harassment lawsuit against him; and information on the agency’s spending for new offices. The reporter testified that shortly before Hughes was fired, he confirmed to King that Hughes had been his source.

The court ruled that her speech “did not address a matter of public concern and, so, was not constitutionally protected.” Hughes said she will appeal.

Advice: Always check with counsel before punishing a whistle-blower. Many state and federal laws have specific prohibitions against retaliating against employees who raise legitimate health, safety or corruption concerns.

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