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Whistle-blowers need good faith, not proof

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

When a New York City employee purports to report wrongdoing on the part of the city government, all that’s required is a good-faith belief that the alleged conduct constituted an “improper governmental action.”

It’s illegal to retaliate against an employee who makes such a report.

Recent case: Tracy worked for New York City’s Civilian Complaint Review Board.

She was terminated after she reported what she alleged were improprieties at the board.

For example, she claimed that a board member sexually harassed other employees and that an employee misrepresented police abuse complaints by publishing inaccurate statistics on the use of choke holds during arrests. She was terminated sometime after making these complaints.

Tracy sued, alleging she was a whistle-blower under the New York City Civil Service Law §75-b and that she had been fired in retaliation for that whistle-blowing.

The board argued the case should be dismissed because she could neither prove that the harassment took place nor that the report was wrong.

But the court said that all Tracy had to prove was that she had a good faith belief that the board member and the employee’s actions fit the definition in §75-b—namely that improper governmental action “shall mean any action by a public employer or employee, or an agent of such employer or employee, which is undertaken in the performance of such agent’s official duties, whether or not such action is within the scope of his employment, and which is in violation of any federal, state or local law, rule or regulation.”

Clearly Tracy believed that federal, state or local laws on sexual harassment and false reporting covered her reports. The court said her case can go to trial. (Catapano-Fox v. City of New York, et al., No. 14-CIV-8036, SD NY, 2015)

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