November 27, 2018 Category: Whistleblowing
A Los Angeles firefighter was recently awarded $2.75 million in a whistleblower retaliation lawsuit. Stephen Meiche, a 57-year-old firefighter, reported the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) for “wrongfully destroying and discarding property” that had been purchased with federal money. After this disclosure, the culture and atmosphere within Meiche’s unit changed.
Specifically, Meiche argued that he was “marginalized, denied overtime, ostracised, and harassed” by members of the LAFD. Rumors that questioned the firefighter’s ability and dedication began to surface. He feared that other firefighters may not assist him on the job, which would put his health and safety in jeopardy. He filed a lawsuit against the LAFD, alleging harassment, discrimination, and retaliation.
Employers Prohibited From Retaliating Against Whistleblowers
Meiche’s troubles began after he reported misconduct by members of the LAFD. In 2014, Meiche to the LAFD that (a) members of his unit had destroyed LAFD property in violation of the law; (b) those members falsified documents to cover their tracks; and (c) a captain with the LAFD had “engaged in a dive at a depth beyond his certification” which could create significant safety hazards for firefighters and civilians. Meiche claims that his reports were not investigated. However, claims filed against Meiche by other members of his unit were promptly considered. Instead, Meiche explained that he experienced harassment and retaliation in the workplace.
Employees are encouraged to report conduct or procedures that are either illegal or dangerous. When an employee has the courage to step forward and speak out, state and federal law offer certain protections. Whistleblower protection laws protect employees who:
- Contacts law enforcement concerning suspected criminal activity
- Reports suspected violations of the law to a supervisor
- Reports noncompliance with a government regulation or law
- Provides testimony or information to support an investigation, or
- Reports wage and labor violations.
State and federal law prohibit employers from retaliating against employees from engaging in these protected activities. Retaliation can include:
- Outright termination
- Constructive termination
- Refusal to promote
- Reduced pay, and
- Other harassing or discriminatory conduct.
Any conduct that marginalizes or punishes an employee can be a violation of the law.
When Do Whistleblower Retaliation Lawsuits Have to Be Filed?
Many laws may apply to a whistleblower situation. The amount of time an employee has to file a complaint will depend on the law(s) that protect his or her actions.
California Fair Housing & Employment Act: Complaints must be filed with the State Personnel Board within one year of the violation. [Government Code 8547]
Reports of Labor Law Violations: Complaints must be filed with the California Labor Commissioner within six months of the violation; lawsuits must be filed within three years. [Labor Code 98.6]
Reports of Occupational Safety Violations: Complaints must be filed with the California Labor Commissioner within six months of the violation; lawsuits must be filed within three years. [Labor Code 6310]
Reporting Criminal Activity: Lawsuits must be filed within three years of the violation. [Labor Code 1102.5]
Your ability to recover compensation can be denied if you fail to file your complaint or lawsuit within the applicable statute of limitations.
Damages Available to Victims of Retaliation
Employees who step forward and report illegal or dangerous activity are protected by the law. These laws prohibit employers from retaliating or taking adverse action against employees for engaging in protected activities. When an employer ignores the law and retaliates against an employee, they can be vulnerable to a civil retaliation lawsuit. These lawsuits can demand financial and equitable relief.
Financial Relief: Employees can recover compensation for lost wages and benefits, emotional distress, humiliation, pain and suffering, and other injuries. Punitive damages may also be available.
Equitable Relief: Employees can also ask for equitable relief. Equitable relief can include specific performance, where an employer is required to do something, or an injunction, where an employer is prohibited from doing something. For example, an employee could ask to have his or her employment reinstated as a form of equitable relief.
Have you experienced retaliation or discrimination for reporting illegal or dangerous activity in the workplace? Contact our experienced San Jose discrimination lawyers for immediate assistance. We offer a free consultation, so do not hesitate to call for help today.