Frequently Asked Questions
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Is Reporting Suspected Waste or Mismanagement to a University Vice President Protected under the Whistleblower Act?
The short and simple answer to the question is "yes," but, as with most things, content and context of the report is what really decides the question. The Kentucky Supreme Court made this decision in a recent decision, Harper v. University of Louisville, and the analysis there is helpful to look at.
Harper worked in the university's communications and marketing department. In 2009, an advertising agency quoted a production budget of $100,000 for a television commercial that would go on during a university football game. Harper had experience working with national advertising agencies and knew this was too high; among other things, another agency had done a "similar commercial" for the university the previous year for a cost of only $50,000. She told her supervisor, Griffith, that $100,000 was too much, that a lower price could be negotiated and "that an overpayment of that magnitude would be wasteful of taxpayer dollars, especially when University programs were being cut back because of budget constraints." Griffith, the boss, responded by "throwing a pencil across the desk and telling Harper to stop thinking like that." Harper then went to University Vice President John Drees regarding the matter and expressed these same concerns. Drees told Harper that she wasn't helping herself by bringing up such matters, that "she may not do herself well by going forward with those concerns" and reporting them to others.
The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that Harper's report of the matter to Drees, the university VP, was protected whistleblowing and explained as follows:
Harper’s concern explicitly focused upon what she “suspected” to be wasteful overspending of public funds. Government employees should not be penalized for expressing such opinions. [The Kentucky Whistleblower Act) was enacted to encourage such expressions.
An employee’s report to an “appropriate body or authority” means “any public body or authority with the power to remedy or report the perceived misconduct.” … [Drees’] warning to Harper does not remove him from the class of University officials with the power and authority to act on Harper’s concern. We conclude that an objectively reasonable report of suspected waste or mismanagement to a University vice president qualifies as a protected disclosure under the [Kentucky Whistleblower Act].
So the content of Harper's report was that the university was wasting taxpayer money by overpaying the advertising agency to produce the ad, and Harper had good reason to believe this so since she had experience with national advertising agencies and the year before a similar ad had been produced for only $50,000. Harper was not venting an uninformed opinion or complaint -- she knew what she was talking about -- and she brought those concerns to someone who could act to remedy the situation, Drees, the VP.
The Court's decision and analysis in Harper is an important case under the whistleblower law; we've discussed it in other posts: Is a Complaint or Report about Nepotism Covered by the Kentucky Whistleblower Act?
Do credit union whistleblowers have any legal protection?
A federal law, 12 U.S.C. 1790b, provides protection for credit union whistleblowers in certain situations. The law reads as follows:
No insured credit union may discharge or otherwise discriminate against any employee with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because the employee (or any person acting pursuant to the request of the employee) provided information to the [National Credit Union Administration] Board or the Attorney General regarding any possible violation of any law or regulation by the credit union or any director, officer, or employee of the credit union.
The law applies to specific types of reports, the "possible violation of any law or regulation by the credit union or any director, officer, or employee of the credit union," made to two specific entities (1) the Board of the National Credit Union Administration; and, (2) the Attorney General of the United States. It's clear what the NCUA Board is but whether a report to an agency or branch of the United States Department of Justice or other person short of the actual Attorney General will have to be decided by the courts.
You can learn more about legal protections for a credit union whistleblower at the Kentucky Employment Law Blog by Robert Abell: What Must A Credit Union Whistleblower Prove In a Retaliation Case?
Can I be fired for reporting Medicare fraud?
The federal False Claims Act makes it unlawful to retaliate against or fire an employee who has reported Medicare fraud in the certain circumstances that the law covers. What this means is depending on what you report about Medicare fraud and who you report it to you may be protected from retaliation or firing. Just any reporting may not qualify an employee for legal protection against or from being fired.
Lexington, Kentucky Medicare fraud and whistleblower lawyer Robert Abell represents individuals and employees in Medicare fraud and whistleblower cases; contact him at 859-254-7076.
Do whistleblower laws protect a private company employee in Kentucky?
It depends. Whether or not an employee at a private company is protected by a whistleblower law depends on the subject matter of their whistleblowing and to who or what the whistleblowing report is made. Not all whistleblowing by a private company employee is protected by a whistleblower law.
If you have questions or concerns about whistleblowing protection, please contact Lexington, Kentucky whistleblower lawyer Robert Abell at 859-254-7076.
What is the Kentucky Whistleblower Act?
According to a ruling by the Kentucky Supreme Court, the purpose of the Kentucky Whistleblower Act "is to protect employees who possess knowledge of wrongdoing that is concealed or not publicly known, and who step forward to help uncover and disclose that information." The purpose of the Act is to protect "public employees who disclose wrongdoing." The Act "serves to discourage wrongdoing in government, and to protect those who make it public." That is the explanation and description of the Whistleblower Act by the Kentucky Supreme Court in the case of Workforce Development Cabinet v. Gaines, 276 S.W.3d 789 (Ky. 2008).
Keep in mind that the Kentucky Whistleblower Act does protect all reports about any and everything and its coverage also depends on to who or what the report is made.
Lexington, Kentucky whistleblower lawyer Robert Abell represents individuals and employees in cases where their rights have been violated or they have been fired on account of their good-faith whistleblowing activity; contact him at 859-254-7076.
What is covered by the Kentucky Whistleblower Act?
The Kentucky Whistleblower Act makes it unlawful for an "employer" to retaliate "in any manner whatsoever" against any employee who in good faith reports to "any law enforcement agency or its employees, or any other appropriate body or authority, any facts or information relative to an actual or suspected violation of any law, statute, executive order, administrative regulation, mandate, rule, or ordinance of the United States, the Commonwealth of Kentucky, or any of its political subdivisions, or any facts or information relative to actual or suspected mismanagement, waste, fraud, abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety." Kentucky Revised Statute sec. 61.102.
That's a summary of the whistleblower law but what does all that really mean? There are a few questions:
- who or what is an "employer" covered by the Kentucky Whistleblower Act?
- do the "facts or information" reported have to be otherwise not generally or publicly known?
- who might be an "appropriate body or authority" to receive a whistleblower report?
Lexington, Kentucky whistleblower lawyer Robert Abell has represented a number of government or public and private company employees in cases where their rights have been violated or they have been fired on account of their good-faith whistleblowing activity; contact him at 859-254-7076.