Recent Rulings: Employer Retaliation
In Lawson v. FMR LLC, 134 S. Ct. 1158 (March 4, 2014), The U.S. Supreme Court held that the whistleblower provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act protect the employees of privately held companies that contract with the larger corporations that are actually the intended companies to be governed by the Act. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act was passed in 2002 to prevent the corporate fraud that caused the downfall (and defrauding of many shareholders) of Enron. One important part of the Act is a whistle blower protection law- if you suspect that corporate fraud is occurring in a publicly held corporation, you cannot be retaliated against for reporting the fraud. In Lawson, the employees who reported fraud were not actually employees of the publicly held corporation- a mutual fund- but rather employees of the financial advisory corporations that managed the funds. The court below dismissed the employees’ retaliation claims, holding that the only protected employees were employees of the large corporations themselves. The Supreme Court disagreed- the Act protects employees of contracting companies who report fraud at the companies with which their employers have contracts.
The Connecticut Appellate Court recently held that an employee who was denied to opportunity to retrieve his personal belongings had been subjected to retaliation for whistle-blowing. The employee worked for the University of Connecticut as a lab animal veterinarian and complained to numerous authorities that animals were not bring treated properly. His supervisors reacted by forbidding him from coming to campus and refused to allow him to pick up his personal belongings. The Court held that this action could be considered retaliation because it could discourage a worker from coming forward with a legitimate complaint.
Eagen v. CHRO, 2012 WL 1673098 (Conn. App. May 22, 2012)
A Magistrate Judge in Bridgeport recently refused to dismiss the case of a postal employee who was terminated while he had a lawsuit pending against his employer. In this case, the postal employee was suspended from his job after an “incident with a coworker.” After he filed a grievance with his union, he was reinstated. However, though he was told on the phone that he had been reinstated, he never received the paperwork showing that he had been reinstated. He therefore did not return to work immediately because he was afraid that, without the paperwork, he would be arrested for being on the premises. He was then terminated from his employment again for not showing up for work. He then sued the postal service, alleging that he had actually been fired because he had a pending lawsuit against the postal service and they were retaliating against him for bringing that lawsuit. The magistrate judge held that the fact that the plaintiff was terminated during the pendency of his lawsuit was enough evidence of retaliation to maintain his lawsuit.
Cassotto v. Potter, 2012 WL 603281 (D. Conn. Feb. 24, 2012) (Fitzsimmons, U.S.M.J.).