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Whistle-Blower law doesn’t limit right to sue for nongovernment reporting

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Illinois’ Whistleblower Act protects employees who report employer wrongdoing to government agencies. But sometimes employees report their employers’ misdeeds to other entities—such as the media or some other body, either internal or external to the organization.

Before the Whistleblower Act became law, Illinois employees could sue employers for retaliatory discharge if they reported wrongdoing either internally or to the government or the media. Some lawyers thought the act wiped out such broad employee protections.

Now an Illinois appeals court has clarified that employees are protected even if they take their complaints outside an employer’s formal resolutions process.

Recent case: Melissa Callahan, a clerk at an Edgewater Care nursing home, told her supervisor and an administrator that a resident was being kept in the home against her will. Callahan did not go to authorities or report the matter to anyone outside the company. Eventually Callahan was fired, and she suspected retaliation. But she couldn’t bring a Whistleblower Act lawsuit since she hadn’t followed the law’s procedures. Neither had she reported the alleged wrongdoing to the government or the police. Instead, she filed a common-law suit, and said that before the Whistleblower Act became law, she would have been protected from discharge for reporting alleged wrongdoing anywhere.

Edgewater argued that the Whistleblower Act ended that earlier right. But the appeals court disagreed. It said employees still may sue for other whistle-blowing activity. (Callahan v. Edgewater Care and Rehabilitation Center, No. 1-06-3178, Appellate Court of Illinois, First District, 2007)

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