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Whistle-blowing Case filed by Two Terminated Employees in Kentucky

Two women formerly employed by the city of Corydon in Kentucky, Gloria Mills and Jenna Kavanaugh, have filed a whistleblower suit against the city and its mayor, Larry Thurby. The suit alleges that they were wrongfully terminated for questioning some discrepancies they found in the city’s accounting. When they brought the matter to Mayor Thurby’s attention, he allegedly told them to keep quiet about what they had found. Neither of the women felt comfortable with keeping the information to themselves, so they notified Kentucky State Police who investigated the matter. Both women were terminated in July, supposedly for claiming they worked more hours than they did.

A state auditor’s report in February showed that $81,000 of city money was missing. The Corydon city sewer clerk was terminated and indicted in September for theft of over $10,000. She faces up to five to ten years in prison if convicted. It would appear that Ms. Mills’ and Ms. Kavanaugh’s feelings that something illegal was occurring were accurate.

The Kentucky Whistleblower Act is labeled as KRS 61.102 and states “No employer shall subject to reprisal, or directly or indirectly use, or threaten to use, any official authority or influence, in any manner whatsoever, which tends to discourage, restrain, depress, dissuade, deter, prevent, interfere with, coerce, or discriminate against any employee who in good faith reports, discloses, divulges, or otherwise brings to the attention of…any…appropriate body or authority, any facts or information relative to an actual or suspected violation of any law, statute, executive order, administrative regulation, mandate, rule, or ordinance of the United States, the Commonwealth of Kentucky, or any of its political subdivisions, or any facts or information relative to actual or suspected mismanagement, waste, fraud, abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety. No employer shall require any employee to give notice prior to making such a report, disclosure, or divulgence.”

What this means is that an employee should be able to report to an appropriate party anything that seems illegal or dangerous at the place of employment without the threat of being fired or somehow retaliated against by the employer. The act goes on to say that it does not allow employees to leave their place of employment during work without following the proper protocol and that employers still have the right to request information regarding what the employees have reported. Employees that knowingly report false or confidential information can face disciplinary action from their employer.

The next section of the Kentucky Whistleblower Act puts the initial burden of proof on the employee by stating he must prove that the termination or other negative personnel action was a direct result of his whistleblowing. After that is proven, the employer must then defend its actions and prove the personnel action was not based on the whistleblowing action. In a lawsuit, the employee can request damages including lost wages, future lost wages and compensation for emotional distress. Punitive damages may also be awarded, which serve to punish the defendant and deter them from acting in a similar manner in the future. Ms. Mills and Ms. Kavanaugh are seeking past and future lost wages as well as compensation for their emotional distress.

Most places of employment are run according to the law and strive to provide a safe work environment for their employees and safe products for the consumer. Unfortunately, breakdowns in these categories do occur and it is imperative that employees feel able to report potentially illegal or unsafe situations to the proper authorities, especially if their superiors have been notified and have failed to act. If employees feel they have been retaliated against, they have only 90 days after the incident to file a lawsuit, so they need to contact a Kentucky employment attorney such as Charles Miller or Rheanne Falkner to discuss their case.

Sources:

Whistle-Blowers in Corydon, KY Claim Wrongful Termination by City; surfky.com; Ben Adams; December 15, 2011
Two ex-Corydon, Ky., workers file lawsuit; Courier Press; Victoria Grabner; December 13, 2011
http://www.lrc.state.ky.us/krs/061-00/102.PDF