Judge rules whistleblowers cannot sue

May 12, 2011

By KAREN VELIE

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.


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willie

Its been many years since I retired from government.

If I recall correctly, a displaced employee cannot sue for reinstatement because of binding arbitration with public employees unions, she has to go through her union first.

An outside person cannot sue an agency without demonstrating good faith to allow the agency to correct itself.

Civil rights violation are the exception to all this.


willie

The rich profit if the economy is good or goes bad.

The power that be profits from revenue if they do good or from they’re “covered up” screw up.


willie

Her only shame is having no job because for living and doing right (in every sense!)


However, the powers that be views her a threat, they believe in control and obedience or respect (simular to military), they believe that the violations would not have existed or been discovered had she obeyed, they believe if the violations were discovered they can BS and justify more revenue as a result of it (simular to LE justifying more money for better officers and training).


Wrongful terminations, blackballing and bias does exist in more ways than one (all about control)!


This is and always has been the wrong messages in any sense to send out to the universe!


Cindy

Devina Douglas has done the citizens of the Central Coast a great service and at a severe personal financial cost/loss to herself. Unfortunately there appears to exist a quagmire of red tape, a loophole if you will, where special districts remain void of protections that are afforded the average Employee working in the private or even public sector. No doubt, this current ruling by our local court has sent a loud and clear message to those who fall under this bizarre veil but who would otherwise speak the truth and protect their fellow citizens.


Frankly, I think public Employees have far too many rights, at times, their rights literally teeter on the line of the absurd. I don’t want to lobby for added rights for Employees who serve the public sector, I want to lobby for protection to those who would sacrifice themselves to enlighten, expose failed safeguards and deliver unknown facts to the public where there otherwise would not have been any well needed scrutiny.


It is now up to the citizens who are paying the fees to support this district to STAND UP, and demand a new board, a new provider and the reinstatement of their most TRUSTED servants, ie: Devina Douglas and maybe some others.


r0y

Three simple rules to remember:


1) You cannot sue the Government;


2) You cannot sue the Government; and


3) You cannot sue the Government.


Unless, of course, you are a government agency, then you can sue other agencies – but we just call them fines. It’s really only a transfer of wealth. From our pockets to theirs… to theirs…?


Cindy

Not true, people sue the gov and win all the time. I sued Atascadero and I won and so have many others. Take a look at the lesbian police officers in A-Town that sued the APD/city, they got a load of money, so this business of not being able to sue makes no sense.


titlenine9

http://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/recall.pdf


Best way to communicate with Judges that over reach


RatPatrol1967

Yes, you can sue a government agency for bad decisions, as well as unlawful ones. But in SLO Co., the average ‘joe’ must take that responsibility on themselves. SLO Co. has a gutless D.A. Out in Cal Valley, my husband and I got sick of the illegal sheep-grazing industry our CVCSD was running on our private land. We appealed to every agency, noting the many local, state, and federal laws our CSD was breaking by doing this. What did Jim Patterson say when we went to him? “Those poor folks have to make money some how”? I guess an adult sex shop was out of the question. So we sued. And we won. We won big. To the tune of $500,000 against the sheepherders and a PERMANENT injunction stopping the CSD from running a business on my land without my permission or without compensation.


That didn’t stop the CSD from continuing to try to gain financially from illegal gains; now they are trying to extort the ‘solar farms’ into supporting their degenerate lifestyles. My recent favorite? How the CVCSD is trying to get nearly $50,000 for a ‘park’ out here for the kiddies. HA! They kids out here don’t want nor desire a ‘park’. They want their parents to move away from California Valley and into society where those same kids might have a chance at a life and/or education. My prediction for that park money? It goes straight into the pockets of the CVCSD board members and the general manager just before they start disappearing again…..just like they did when they stole all that money in 2005.


Cindy

It’s my understanding that laws have been enacted to protect whistle blowers. I recall when the IRS fired a whistle blower, they were forced to rehire her and compensate her for her lost pay. Certainly there is some sort of protection and recourse for these Employees.

How do we align this ruling with the Gail Wicox case? Didn’t she receive an out of court settlement for sexual harassment?

Would someone with a background in these types of affairs please explain this to us?


Catnip

Again Ms. Velie doesn’t have her facts straight.


The CA State Whistleblower law protects state employees only (see gov code 8547et seq.)


“8547.1. The Legislature finds and declares that state employees

should be free to report waste, fraud, abuse of authority, violation of law, or threat to public health without fear of retribution. The Legislature further finds and declares that public servants best serve the citizenry when they can be candid and honest without reservation in conducting the people’s business.”


“(c) “Improper governmental activity” means an activity by a state

agency or by an employee that is undertaken in the performance of the

employee’s duties, undertaken inside a state office, or, if

undertaken outside a state office by the employee, directly relates

to state government, whether or not that activity is within the scope

of his or her employment, and that (1) is in violation of any state

or federal law or regulation, including, but not limited to,

corruption, malfeasance, bribery, theft of government property,

fraudulent claims, fraud, coercion, conversion, malicious

prosecution, misuse of government property, or willful omission to

perform duty, or (2) is economically wasteful, or involves gross

misconduct, incompetency, or inefficiency.”


You are talking about a CA special district, whose employees are not covered, which then causes the law to revert back to Gov Code 815 as mkaney says.


I don’t like it, nor do I think it’s fair. It is the law however.


MarkJames

“Again Ms. Velie doesn’t have her facts straight.”


Ms Catnip, There is a difference between a failure to get the facts straight and a failure to elucidate. Funny that you take exception to a reporter who accurately reports the bottom line and quotes a judge during a ruling but then fails to fully investigate and explain the law.


Velie obtained a hard earned degree in journalism, do you suggest that she should have gone on to achieve a jurist doctorate? I ask because there is not one single fact that is incorrect in this article. You have your nerve. Do you donate to this site to afford Velie the time to do more than any other media source provides with far less staff? NO (?) ! – I didn’t think so.


replier3

Ms. Velie does not accurately report. She discusses an article stating Ms. Douglas filed a lawsuit for “fraud”. Litigation records are available to view in the court. The pleadings in that case are NOT fraud. She just reports whatever she hears from Ms. Douglas’s attorney who has now proven himself to be an idiot. I guess she failed to report recent developments, The second case filed by Ms. Douglas’s attorney is on hold because the court recognized it was related to the first case he lost on. The second case was sent to the same court that heard the first case, however Mr. Stuhlberg winned & cried and filed a motion to disqualify the Judge that made the correct decision. Clearly poor Mr. Stuhlberg is shopping his case to see if he can get his horrible pleadings accepted. Basically he has no case. One can only consider what is really motivating him….


Typoqueen

Too bad. There is no justice, the fat cat wins again.


centralcoastcoyote

and the fat cat will continue to win you watch


ApathyWillKillYou

This is beyond outrageous!


r0y

It’s amazing how efficient the government is when covering it’s own ass…


Like going after your money – they’re pretty good at that.


I remember hearing someone (comedian?) say, “If they really wanted to get Osama bin Laden, just tell the IRS he failed to pay his taxes… they’d have him within a day!”


danika

You would think Ms. Douglas’ attorney would have known that legal tidbit, no?


mkaney

Yeah, frankly she should probably sue her attorney for malpractice. I did a quick google search on “whistlebolower suit wrongful termination public entity” and found this:


http://www.dwkesq.com/index.cfm/media-center/publication-details/?dynapsisfuse=showdetails&pkid=451&type=7&tableid=2


a document at a law practice which states “Government Code section 815, which immunizes public entities against common law tort liability, bars employee from bringing common law claims for retaliation and wrongful termination in violation of public policy.”


r0y

Just think what you could have found if you had a law library at your disposal… (points to Ms. Douglas’ attorney).


replier3

Ms. Douglas should sue her attorney as the complaint would have been successful if he had filed under the correct statute. However he is obviously out of his league. How is Douglas paying him ??? One can only guess.


racket

The basicness of the oversight makes me wonder if perhaps there was more at play than Douglas looking for a judgment. Perhaps what she was looking for was more PR/scrutiny on the whole issue — a further opportunity to announce/reveal how fouled up the Sanitation District is.


This is idle speculation on my part, I am trying to understand how Douglas’ attorney could proceed in the face of such an clear obstacle.


replier3

Douglas was only in it for herself & the money. Ms. Douglas was busy sleeping with another employee and they engaged in a plot to make up allegations and collect money. This is evidenced by the fact that she did it previously. Always check court records.