Whistleblower protections interact with many other laws, particularly for government workers. This is true of federal government employees and employees of New York and other state governments.
Two former state government employees received $650,000 in a whistleblower retaliation lawsuit that revolved around the state’s public records act.
According to news reports, the two workers were a married couple who worked for New Mexico’s Children, Youth and Families Department. One was hired as director of the department’s Office of Children’s Rights and the other as a public relations officer.
Shortly after starting their jobs in 2020, both complained that the agency was instructing its employees to communicate with each other through Signal, an encrypted messaging app that deletes text messages after a short period. The pair of new employees expressed concern that this policy was in violation of the state’s public records law, which requires storing many types of government communications.
The two workers also filed formal complaints about what they saw as a noncompetitive process of putting out bids for contracts.
According to their lawsuit, the couple were both fired on the same day, just weeks after filing their complaints. In both cases, they were told their termination was due to poor performance.
In 2021, the couple sued the state, claiming that they were actually fired in retaliation for their protected whistleblowing activities.
Before the case went to trial, the agency agreed to pay the couple $650,000 but admitted no wrongdoing.
Whistleblower protections are written into many state and federal laws, and the details can vary from law to law, but their prohibitions against retaliation are essentially the same. If an employee engages in protected activity, their employer may not retaliate against them.
Prohibited retaliation includes termination, demotion, reassignment to less desirable positions or hours, or taking other negative actions against the employee.
Protected activities include reporting illegal or unethical behavior, dangerous working conditions and more.
These principles apply to whistleblowing cases in both the private and public sectors, but the procedures for taking action in a case involving government workers take special considerations.