Here’s a bit of good news that may prevent a big jury verdict: An employment-related whistleblower claim must be heard and decided by a judge, not a jury.
Recent case: Paul was a police officer who was assigned to run a Police Athletic League facility. When the police department hired a contractor to do some remodeling, Paul became concerned that asbestos might be exposed. He complained to his supervisors and to the contractor about the alleged asbestos. He demanded testing and asked for copies of the contractor’s specialized asbestos remediation certification.
According to the police department, testing revealed no asbestos in the air or elsewhere at the facility.
Subsequently, Paul was disciplined for failing to properly run the program. He sued, alleging he had been punished for whistleblowing when he complained about asbestos. The trial court sent the case to a jury, which concluded Paul was owed money.
The department appealed, arguing that under the Pennsylvania Whistleblower Act, employees aren’t entitled to a jury trial. The court agreed and reversed the verdict. A judge will now decide the case. (Senak v. PAL of Philadelphia, No. 1194-CV-2014, Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, 2016)
Final note: Remember, to be a whistleblower, the employee doesn’t have to be right. He or she just has to report alleged wrongdoing in good faith. Paul saw insulation and construction debris that looked to him like asbestos. That was enough to show his good faith.
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