Articles Posted in Whistleblower

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Thumbnail image for 1038828_u_s__supreme_court_2.jpg Two lawsuits have been recently filed in Oldham County Kentucky Circuit Court. One is against the former Mayor of LaGrange, Kentucky alleging that the Mayor either removed or caused to be removed, records belonging to the city and pertaining to the city’s business. The second lawsuit alleges that the City of LaGrange improperly sold a home it owned, which was assessed at $85,000.00, to a man for only $14,711.00. Both cases involve active of the former Mayor of the City.

Case which allege or involve potential abuses by government officials can be reported by government employees to proper authorities without the threat of retaliation, even if the allegations prove that no wrong doing existed. Such government employees are protected when making these reports by the Kentucky Whistleblower laws. These laws are designed to encourage people to report suspected abuses or illegal activities which involve government.
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The Kentucky Legislature is presently considering advancing legislation that would create new whistleblower style cases and legal claims. Both the State Senate and State House have their versions of how to address these types of claims. Both legislative bodies are proposing triple damages for various state government fraud claims. The Senate’s version allows for triple damages and fees to the private citizens, who brings the action in cases involving Medicaid frauds. The House’s version allows for triple damages and fees to private citizens, who bring these type cases for any type of fraud upon the government.

The way this would work, is in these types of cases, when a private citizen knows of a fraud against the government and government money payments, the private citizen can file a fraud suit on behalf of the State. The Kentucky Attorney General then has a right to intervene and take over the case. If the Kentucky Attorney General does take over the case, and recovers money then the person who filed the suit will be paid 15% of the judgment. If the Kentucky Attorney General does not take over the case, then the private citizen and his/her lawyer prosecute the case, and the private citizen is paid a fee of 30% of the recovered amount. Both legislative bodies’ versions of the law would allow for a triple recovery of damages, which means that whatever was determined to have been defrauded will be multiplied by 3 to determine how much is owed back to the State. This could equivocate to big money rewards for the State and for the private citizen who files the suit.
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Former Junction City Police Chief Jimmy Gipson has filed a Kentucky whistleblower lawsuit alleges he was fired by Mayor Jim Douglas in retaliation for calling another police agency after the mayor appeared to be drinking on the job. Gipson is seeking reinstatement to his former job, backpay and an unspecified amount of punitive damages for sullying his reputation. Junction City is also named as a defendant. It is alleged that Douglas fired Gipson, longtime police and fire chief in Junction City, on Dec. 29, 2011 without a public explanation. On Dec. 30, Gipson received an official letter signed by the mayor stating he was terminated for “insubordination and continual disregard for city policies.” The lawsuit alleges that Gipson was working inside the city firehouse Dec. 29 when Douglas drove up in a city vehicle and began to yell and act belligerently. Smelling alcohol on the mayor, Gipson called the Boyle County Sheriff’s Office, which passed the matter on to Kentucky State Police.

The Kentucky lawsuit claims that state police arrived and performed a portable Breathalyzer test on the Mayor and found his blood-alcohol content was .04. A person in Kentucky is guilty of a DUI if they operate a motor vehicle with a blood-alcohol content of .08 percent or higher. The suit further alleges that immediately after the incident, Gipson was called in to City Clerk Susan Music’s office and told to sign a resignation later and turn in his police gear. When Gipson refused, Douglas entered the office and fired him on the spot.

This is a classic case example of a Whistleblower lawsuit. The Kentucky Whistleblower statute is KRS 61.100 et seq. and requires that suit be filed within 90 days of the retaliatory action occurring. In cases like this, the Plaintiff is required to prove:
(1) that he was a government employee (as here a police officer);
(2) that he made a good faith report of a suspect legal violation to the proper authorities (as here he suspected drinking and driving, and reported it to law enforcement); and (3) that the report was a contributing and material factor in the decision made against him (the proximity in time between the report and the action taken against him, as is here the same day, will support such a finding).
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931543_-team_iii-.jpg Kentucky is an “employee at will” doctrine state. In Kentucky your employer can terminate you at any time, with or without reason, and you can quit at any time, with or without reason (provided there is not a written contract to the contrary). The Kentucky Supreme Court has interpreted the “employee at will” doctrine as meaning: “An employer can fire an employee for cause, without cause, or even for cause that may seem to be morally indefensible. It is only illegal if the employer violates a contract, retaliates against an employee for exercising certain legal rights or if the employer takes action in violation of a protected status (discriminates).”Kentucky employee’s have very limited protections against bad employers. If a Kentucky employee is fired or suffers negative consequences in the workplace, they must examine the below to consider if they have legal action against their employer.

It is illegal to:
(i) discriminate based upon race, gender, religion, national origin, age, pregnancy, or disability;
(ii) require an employee to lie to a government authority or in an investigation, or take action against an employee who refuses to do such;
(iii) require an employee to violate the law, or take action against an employee who refuses to do such;
(iv) prevent an employee from reporting violation of the law, including civil statutes such as discrimination laws and/or suspected healthcare violations or dangers related to a medical patient’s care;
(v) take action against or fire an employee in violation of the terms of a specific written contract of employment between the employer and the employee.

Workplace Sexual Harassments & Harassments In order for work place harassment or discrimination to be actionable, it must be more than personality conflicts and a general dislike of a person, and it must be “severe and so pervasive” so that it “unreasonably interferes with a person’s ability to do his/her job.” Isolated acts or isolated comments are NOT sufficient under the law to rise to the level to be actionable in court.

Workplace Discrimination
Discrimination has to be based upon one of the following: race, gender, religion, national origin, age, pregnancy, or disability. These are referred to as protected statuses.
Under a discrimination legal action, the discrimination has to be evidenced by either:
(1) direct evidence, which would be the effect of verbally or in writing stating negative expressions or actions towards a person based one of the protected statuses above, or (2) indirect evidence, which would be a comparison between how protected status persons are treated versus how those who do not fall in the protected status are treated.
As with workplace harassments, the workplace discrimination will not be legally actionable if it is an isolated incident.

Government Employee Whistleblower Protections
It is illegal for a government agency to take action against an employee who in good faith reports a suspected violation of law, fraud, or abuse of authority, to the proper authorities or another government agency.
These persons are referred to as “Whistleblowers.”
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