San Francisco Whistleblower Protection Lawyer

What is Whistleblowing?

A whistleblower is an individual who reports fraud or other unlawful conduct. At Rukin Hyland, we provide a full range of legal services to whistleblowers who report illegal conduct by their employers and other businesses. Individuals who have already reported illegal conduct, or who are considering doing so, may need legal advice and representation for several reasons.  Whistleblowers may require advice and assistance in making a formal complaint—whether internally or to a governmental enforcement agency—or if the complaint is related to unlawful conduct by an employer, the individual may need assistance addressing potential retaliation.

At Rukin Hyland, we assist employees with filing and prosecuting whistleblower claims. Our attorneys frequently begin cases by educating whistleblowers about their rights and explaining the pros and cons of filing a complaint and the process of doing so. Some laws, such as Dodd-Frank and the False Claims Act, permit an individual who reports fraud or other unlawful activity to collect a portion of the money ultimately recovered.

Whistleblower Retaliation

Our attorneys also help whistleblowers facing retaliation. It is against the law for an employer to retaliate against a whistleblower, and many different laws create protection for whistleblowers.

California recently expanded the scope of its own California Whistleblower Protection Act. Pursuant to this law—California Labor Code Section 1102.5—employers cannot retaliate against an employee for disclosing information that the employee reasonably believes may violate a local, state, or federal law, rule, or regulation to (1) a government or law enforcement agency, (2) a person with authority over the employee, or (3) to another employee who has authority to investigate, discover, or correct the violation or noncompliance, or (4) from providing information to, or testifying before, any public body conducting an investigation, hearing, or inquiry.  It is also unlawful for employers to punish an employee for refusing to participate in an activity that would result in a violation of a local, state, or federal rule or law.

California Retaliation Charges (2009-2016)

Source: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Other Legally Protected Individuals

Federal and state laws also protect individuals who file complaints in the following areas:

Certain whistleblower claims may also be filed without the employer’s knowledge. Claims under federal and state qui tam laws are filed under seal and investigated by government agencies before the company is notified of the lawsuit.

For more information on the reporting of fraud committed by companies against U.S. and state governments through the False Claims Act (FCA) and its state equivalents, see our blog post: The Rise of the Anti-Fraud Whistleblower.

Whistleblower Protection Act

The federal Whistleblower Protection Act, the law at issue in MacLean, protects federal employees who disclose information that they reasonably believe violates a law, rule or regulation; or shows gross mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety—so long as the disclosure is not specifically prohibited by law.  See 5 U.S.C. §§ 1221, 2302.  For example, a court found that a Department of Veterans Affairs employee who reported her supervisor for illegally seeking to commit a veteran involuntarily had engaged in protected conduct under the federal Whistleblower Protection Act.  (Murphy v. U.S. Dep’t of Veterans Affairs, 1:12-CV-379-DBH, 2013 WL 4508346 (D. Me. Aug. 23, 2013)).  On the other hand, minor disagreements about policy or mistakes in the conscientious course of duty do not qualify for protection – for example, one would-be whistleblower’s view that secretaries should not open confidential envelopes designed for their superiors did not qualify for protection. (Langer v. Dep’t of Treasury, 265 F.3d 1259, 1263, 1267 (Fed. Cir. 2001)).

See Also: Severance Agreements in California: Understanding the Whats, Whens & Hows

California’s Whistleblower Protections

It’s not just federal employees who are protected when they disclose information about unlawful conduct.  California recently expanded the scope of its own California Whistleblower Protection Act.  Pursuant to this law—California Labor Code Section 1102.5—employers cannot retaliate against an employee for disclosing information that the employee has reasonably believes may violate a local, state, or federal law, rule, or regulation.  It is also unlawful for employers to punish an employee for refusing to participate in an activity that would result in a violation of a local, state, or federal rule or law.  To prove a wrongful termination retaliation claim under the Labor Code, a plaintiff must prove (1) that he or she engaged in protected activity, for example, that he reported to his supervisor that the employer was engaged in unlawful acts; (2) an adverse employment action, for example, a demotion or a termination; and (3) that a causal connection exists between the protected activity and the adverse employment action.  An employee asserting a retaliation claim can rely on both circumstantial evidence (for example, by showing that he was terminated the day after he reported unsafe working conditions) or direct evidence (for example, an email from her boss stating that she would fire any “tattletales” who reported her unlawful activity).

The underlying purpose of these and similar state and federal whistleblower laws is to encourage employees to stop or report illegal or unsafe employer actions, with an overarching goal of ensuring safe, lawful work environments.   As one Court of Appeal judge in the MacLean case approvingly noted, MacLean “presented substantial evidence that he was not motivated by personal gain but by the desire to protect the public,” which “allege[s] conduct at the core of the Whistleblower Protection Act.”  If you, like former air marshal MacLean, have suffered an adverse employment action because you reported unlawful or unsafe workplace activities for the benefit of the public at large, you should consult an attorney to determine whether you may have legal recourse.