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Louisville, Kentucky Employee Settles Whistleblower Suit

In an attempt to make the city of Louisville, Kentucky greener and save money, officials announced in September 2009 that Metro would implement more energy-efficient measures. Eric Garrett, a Public Works employee was involved in the effort, writing hundreds of work orders for updating or replacing equipment. Upon noticing that some of the recommended work was not being done, Mr. Garrett contacted Louisville’s government ethics tip line and Councilman Hal Heiner in 2010. About two weeks later, he was suspended from work, initially for three days, then indefinitely, because a co-worker had supposedly filed a complaint against him.

Mr. Garrett felt that the suspension coming so soon after his reporting of alleged mismanagement by the department was more than coincidence. The attorney he hired agreed, and he filed a whistleblower retaliation suit on Mr. Garrett’s behalf. The state of Kentucky has a whistleblower law that pertains to employees of the state and its “political subdivisions.” A 2010 Kentucky Supreme Court case decided that city governments are “political subdivisions,” so Mr. Garrett would be covered under this law. The law prohibits employers from retaliating against employees that report inappropriate behavior to the proper authorities. In this case, Metro Public Works allegedly retaliated against Mr. Garrett by suspending him supposedly for another reason no more than two weeks after he reported what he felt was mismanagement by them. The law also states that employees are not required to notify their employers that they intend to make a report. The law does not allow employees to make false accusations or divulge confidential corporate information. If this occurs, legal action can be taken by the employer.

The city of Louisville investigated the complaint against Mr. Garrett and determined there was not enough evidence to show he did anything wrong. Mr. Garrett was given back pay and benefits for the time he was suspended. He was also allowed to go back to work, but was told he would have to submit to a psychiatric evaluation to confirm he was fit to return. His attorney fought the evaluation requirement and won, stating his client had been suspended, not on medical leave. Mr. Garrett returned to work, but the whistleblower suit remained.

At the end of December, Metro Public Works settled with Mr. Garrett for $315,000. The types of damages covered by the settlement amount were not disclosed. Because Mr. Garrett had already been reimbursed for wages and benefits lost while he was suspended, the award most likely included compensation for intangible items such as emotional distress. Mr. Garrett is happy to be back at work for the city of Louisville and is satisfied with the resolution.

This case highlights the importance of finding an attorney that has your best interest at heart and is willing to fight for your rights. Mr. Garrett’s attorney agreed that he had been punished by the department for reporting what he had witnessed and filed suit. He also ensured that Mr. Garrett was saved the humiliation of being subjected to an unwarranted psychiatric evaluation. The Kentucky employment attorneys at Miller & Falkner have over eight years of experience in helping individuals who have issues with their employers.

Sources:

Louisville city employee settles work complaint for $315,000; The Courier-Journal; Chris Quay; January 20, 2012
City worker who filed whistleblower lawsuit seeks order barring psychiatric evaluation; The Courier-Journal; Dan Klepal; July 22, 2010