California residents may have heard the term "whistleblower" in the past. The roles of whistleblowers are legally complicated in many different work-related situations. Most recently, the term applies to the case of a doctor who feels he was wrongfully terminated for complaining to his employer about unsafe practices that were occurring at his place of employment.
In a wrongful termination case involving a potential whistleblower, it is important that the court determine whether the individual is filing the lawsuit because they are a bona fide whistleblower or because they are simply a frustrated and angry employee.
The doctor in this case was working at a hospital in California. When he felt that some of the nurses with which he was working were not providing adequate care for some of his patients he went to his employer. He told that employer, a group of doctors working at the hospital, that the nurses were failing to follow his instructions and therefore were not appropriately caring for his patients.
Shortly thereafter, the doctor was fired. According to the doctors who employed him, he was fired because he'd had angry fights and disagreements with that same group of nurses. They claimed he was therefore fired for being an unsuitable employee.
The man therefore proceeded to file a lawsuit claiming that the loss of his job was actually a retaliatory discharge because he was a whistleblower. In California, when a doctor files a lawsuit claiming that their termination was a form of retaliation for being a whistleblower, the court must first determine whether the person is a bona fide whistleblower. If they are, the case can move forward. If they are not, the doctor must first follow the hospital's internal processes for overturning the decision.
In this case, the court determined that the man was indeed a genuine whistleblower and therefore his case was allowed to move forward. However, as readers of this blog can see from this case, a claim for wrongful termination can quickly become very confusing and, if not handled properly, a person can lose their ability to file in court. Therefore, it is always helpful to hire an experienced wrongful termination attorney to ensure every step is taken to prevent this from happening.
Source: Lexology, "Whistleblower or wrongfully terminated employee? California Supreme Court says: whistleblower," William A. Schreiner, Jr., Feb. 26, 2014