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Penn State Whistleblower lawsuit moves forward

A whistleblower and defamation lawsuit against Penn State University will proceed after a Pennsylvania judge reviewed the school's motion to dismiss a part of the whistleblower's claim.

The school had moved for a dismissal of the man's claims for punitive damages, which are damages for non-economic harms such as emotional distress. When a defendant makes a motion to dismiss a particular claim or a part of a claim, the court looks at the facts alleged in the employee's complaint and assesses whether, if all the facts are true, the employee would be legally entitled to the relief that they are asking for. If the answer is yes, then the case proceeds to determine whether the allegations are true.

The whistleblower suit is based on statements that one of the higher-up coaches at Penn State made following the man's testimony about the illegal activity he had witnessed. The statement that the more senior coach made said that the man was committing perjury and lying about what he had seen. The athletic department later fired the man, a fact revealed to the public and the employee at the same time during a televised press conference.

As regular readers of this blog know, it is illegal in Pennsylvania to retaliate against an employee who makes a good faith effort to report wrongdoing or illegal conduct. Whistleblower protection laws prevent this from happening and prevent organizations from firing or creating a hostile work environment for people who report misconduct.

In addition to retaliating by publicly calling the employee a liar and firing him, the man also says that he was banned form all athletic facilities at the school and was effectively "treated like a leper and quarantined" outside of the town where the campus is located.

Source: Courthouse News Service, "Judge Allows Whistleblower Lawsuit Against Penn State," Dan McCue, April 16, 2013.

Information about whistleblower protections and wrongful termination in Pennsylvania is available on our employment law site.

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