It’s rare enough to get a unanimous US Supreme Court ruling, especially when the decision favors employees, but today’s decision in Lane vs. Franks was just that. The ruling recognized the importance of protecting speech when public corruption is an issue and held that public employee whistle blowers are not to be retaliated against when they testify truthfully. In essence, public employees are in the impossible position of testifying truthfully against their bosses and at the same time need to avoid retaliation. As California’s leading whistle blower law firm, representing employees only, we applaud this decision!
It has always been the law that retaliation against whistle blowers who report about federal crimes to federal law enforcement officials has been considered “obstruction of justice”. This decision clarifies that it is also unconstitutional. In the Lane case, an employee at a Community Intensive Trainng program was getting paid but not reporting for work. When her supervisor reported to a grand jury pursuant to a subpoena that she was in fact not reporting to work, the overall director laid off numerous employees and rehired all but two. One was the supervisor who had given truthful grand jury testimony.
In my opinion, this decision is a critical step in re-emphasizing the basic rights (read: constitutional) of employees in both public and private sector jobs to speak their minds truthfully without fear of reprisal. While we have generalized laws such as California Labor Code 1102.5 against retaliation, these laws are limited to strict employment scenarios. Raising the bar to the constitutional level will provide a greater variety of protection in other non-employment situations as well.