Another public employment case has generated a recovery of $571,797 on behalf of a former employee of the California Department of Transportation. In this case, litigated by Rob Hennig and others, the worker, Tony Brake, contended that the head of the Office of Chief of Structures Maintenance and Investigations ordered Brake to closely monitor another worker recently assigned to work under Brake. Brake refused, believing that the monitoring was harassing and retaliatory. The demands on Brake included denying the new subordinate a merit salary adjustment even after Brake (the plaintiff in this case) decided that it was well-earned.
When Brake continued to refuse harassing instructions, the supervisor began to harass Brake as well. Brake properly filed a claim with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing as well as a whistle blower retaliation complaint with the State Personnel Board. Defendant’s contentions that the plaintiff did not suffer an adverse employment action were shot down by the jury. Similarly, the jury found that the “causal link” between the protected activity and damages was found. Oh, by the way, the supervisor was transferred out of the office and back to Sacramento. Coincidence? We think not.
This case illustrates many reasons why it is important to chose employment counsel experienced in the nuances of employment law. For example, recent case law has held that an em;loyer’s reasonable knowledge that an employee is refusing to do an act because of that employee’s concern about whether or not it is illegal, may be protected activity. This is so whether or not the employee actually states his/her belief in the illegality of the act.
Our recent cause of action checklist lists all causes of action available to both public and private employees in California. There are important nuances to keep in mind. In the above case, the plaintiff would not have been able to sue for termination in violation of public policy; however, numerous Government Code claims were relied upon, all to a very good result. Remember also punitive damages are not available against governmental entities under California’s laws (primarily Civil Code 3294). Not so against individual supervisors and co workers, who may, on proper facts and even though state or local political entities, be sued for punitives.
Los Angeles Whistle Blower attorneys with experience in both the public and private sector can hellp you determine your rights.