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Unsatisfied whistle-blower may file lawsuit

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

The California Supreme Court has clarified when a state employee may file a lawsuit alleging whistle-blower retaliation. The court concluded that if the employee doesn’t get satisfaction after an internal review, he or she can go to court for vindication.

Recent case: L. Richard Runyon was a tenured professor in the College of Business Administration at California State University Long Beach (CSULB) and also served as the chair of the college’s Finance, Real Estate and Law Department.

Runyon filed a whistle-blower complaint against Luis Ma Calingo, dean of the College of Business Administration, claiming that Calingo was away from campus too frequently. Calingo then removed Runyon from his department chairmanship, which meant a pay cut.

Then Runyon filed another internal complaint, this time claiming he was being retaliated against. CSULB investigated the charges and concluded Runyon had been removed from the chairmanship because of performance issues, not in retaliation for his alleged whistle-blowing.

Runyon sued, seeking damages for retaliation.

The case ended up in the California Supreme Court, which had to interpret the California law authorizing whistle-blower actions against the state university system. It says employees can sue only after “the injured party has first filed a complaint with the university officer ... and the university has failed to reach a decision regarding that complaint within the time limits established for that purpose.… Nothing in this section is intended to prohibit the injured party from seeking a remedy if the university has not satisfactorily addressed the complaint within 18 months.”

Runyon argued that the language meant he could sue if he were not satisfied with the internal review, and the university argued that he could sue only if the process was not fair and satisfactory. The court sided with Runyon. (Runyon v. Board of Trustees, No. S168950, Supreme Court of California, 2010)

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