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State whistleblower fired for truthful testimony on scandal

The Democratic Caucus of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives has been named in a wrongful termination lawsuit along with several elected officials and staffers. The plaintiff says she was fired after providing testimony in a government corruption case. She says her truthfulness and willing participation caused her to lose her job.

She is suing for lost wages, punitive and compensatory damages. She is also seeking compensation for having her constitutional right to free speech infringed upon through the firing.

Her testimony was central to a grand jury investigation in to widespread corruption. Various Pennsylvania lawmakers and aides were charged and several were convicted. The scandal, known as "Bonusgate," was over allegations that lawmakers were using taxpayer money to pay for software that would give them an advantage in elections.

The woman assisted the investigation by testifying 14 different times. She says that the attorney who represented her during that time was paid for by the Democratic Caucus and that it was well known that she was cooperating with the investigation.

It is illegal for employers to fire their employees for cooperating with law enforcement in an investigation. In addition to free speech protections, employees who report crimes within their company are protected by whistleblower statutes. Being fired for reporting corruption is considered retaliation and entitles terminated employees to compensation. In some cases plaintiffs are able to recover for emotional distress as well, if they can show the jury that the experience caused significant trauma.

The laws are meant to encourage reporting of crimes without fear of losing your job. Employees shouldn't be afraid of exposing corruption or wrongdoing at their workplace.

Source: Courthouse News Service, "Fired for Telling the Truth, State Worker Says," Erin Mcauley, March 13, 2012.

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