Court Decides Whistleblower Retaliation Claim May Proceed To Trial

California’s whistleblower statute, Section 1102.5 of the California Labor Code, is designed to protect whistleblowers from retaliation in the workplace.  Section 1102.5 prohibits retaliation against any employee for disclosing information, or because the employer believes that the employee disclosed or may disclose information, to a government or law enforcement agency, or to a manager in the workplace.

The employee need only have reasonable cause to believe that the information discloses a violation of law or regulation.  The statute not only protects actual whistleblowers, but also those who an employer fears might be a future whistleblower

On June 20, 2019, the California Court of Appeal in Ross v. County of Riverside ruled in favor of a whistleblowing employee.  The case involved Christopher Ross, who worked as a deputy district attorney in the Homicide Unit for the County of Riverside.  The attorney previously working on one of his new cases sent him a memo indicating that she thought the defendant was factually innocent.  Ross agreed as he gathered additional exculpatory evidence, but was told by his supervisor not to turn the exculpatory evidence over to opposing counsel.  

Although Ross repeatedly recommended that the case be dismissed, he never specifically articulated to his supervisors that he believed the failure to turn over the evidence and dismiss the case was an unlawful violation of the defendant’s constitutional rights.  On this ground, the employer moved for summary judgment to dismiss the whistleblower retaliation claim. The Court of Appeal, however, disagreed that the retaliation claim should be dismissed on summary judgment because an employee need not articulate or even expressly state that the law was being violated in order to be protected by the statute.  

The decision in the Ross case is helpful for employees in allowing them to pursue whistleblower claims at trial.  Workplace Justice Advocates, PLC has extensive experience successfully litigating to verdict retaliation claims on behalf of whistleblower clients. 

[Written by Brenda Armenta, current Law Student at Chapman University Fowler School of Law]