Judge rules whistleblowers cannot sue
May 12, 2011
An alleged whistleblower’s case against the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District was tossed out because a judge said an employee cannot sue a public entity for wrongful termination because of being a whistleblower.
Former lab technician Devina Douglas sued the district for allegedly retaliating against her for reporting to state and local regulators that the district was breaking laws enacted to protect the public’s health. Approximately seven months later, she was terminated when the district eliminated her position as the plant’s laboratory technician electing instead to use an “outside” lab to test samples of the wastewater discharge effluent.
Douglas said in her complaint that the “outside” lab is owned and operated by employees of the district and or San Luis Obispo County. The real reason she was terminated, according to the complaint, was to promote self-dealing, reduce oversight, facilitate shoddy inspection and treatment of wastewater effluent and eliminate a proven whistleblower from the district’s payroll.
Attorneys for the district, Adamski, Moroski, Madden, Cumberland & Green, filed a motion arguing that a public entity cannot be sued for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy even if all the alleged illegal acts are proven to be true. San Luis Obispo County Superior Court Judge Dodie Harman agreed even though she did not find Douglas’ allegations incorrect.
According to Harman’s ruling, if Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant was a government entity dumping radioactive waste into the ocean, and an employee who blew the whistle was fired, that employee would not be able to sue for wrongful termination.
In addition, claims against plant manager Jeff Appleton were also tossed out because he was never her employer.
Nevertheless, in January, state regulators determined Appleton operated the plant “using fraud and deception.”
Douglas filed another civil lawsuit against plant administrator John Wallace, his private company the Wallace Group and Jeff Appleton, in which she contends Wallace eliminated her position because her refusal to act unlawfully and put the public at risk.
On May 19, San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Charles Crandall is slated to hear the defendant’s motions to dismiss Douglas’ second lawsuit.