Government employees are protected by law to disclose certain information regarding their employer’s conduct that may impact the public interest. In today’s blog, we review your whistleblower protection rights in D.C., as well as discuss types of protected and public disclosures protected under this law. Keep reading to learn more about your rights as an employee and how to proceed with a civil action in the case of unlawful retaliation.
Whistleblower Protections and Rights
Recall that federal and state law protect whistleblowers against unfair retaliation for appropriate disclosure in the public’s best interest. In Washington, D.C., whistleblower protection applies to employees of D.C. government agencies, including subordinate agencies, independent agencies, as well as the D.C. Public Schools, Board of Trustees of the University of the District of Columbia, and D.C. Housing Authority.
Employees have the constitutional First Amendment right to freedoms of expression, assembly, and individual privacy, thus free expression of opinions on all public issues, including those related to their work duties. As such, they have the right to notify fellow employees and the public of any matters of interest freely discussed among themselves. In particular, individuals may disclose unlawfully suppressed information regarding:
- illegal or unethical conduct that is likely to threaten public health or safety;
- information that involves the unlawful appropriation or use of public funds;
- information that tends to impeach the testimony of employees of the District government before committees of the Council; or
- responses of employees to inquiries from members of the Council concerning the implementation of programs, including those that use public funds.
Employees may also have access to their own personnel file, medical report file, or any other document concerning their status or performance within their agency, with a few exceptions.
All in all, every employee has the right to disclose corruption, dishonesty, incompetence, or administrative failures about their employer without fear of retaliation. The law prohibits a supervisor from taking or threatening to take retaliatory or any other prohibited personnel action against an employee because of their protected disclosure or because they refuse to comply with an illegal order. An employer who violates this law could face legal action through an administrative review, challenge, or adjudication of the action.
Protected and Public Disclosures
As discussed above, employees have the right to disclose information about their work or employer that is illegal or unethical. More specifically, every employee of the District government is in fact required to make protected disclosures as soon as they become aware of the violation or misuse of resources. Such protected disclosures should be conveyed to a supervisor or public body and must relate to fraud, waste, abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety.
Public disclosures generally include information about:
- violations of law, regulation, procurement, and contract issues not merely technical or minimal in nature;
- misuse of government resources, including gross mismanagement, gross misuse or waste of public resources or funds, and abuse of authority in connection with the administration of a public program or execution of a public contract.
The law establishes that every District government supervisor should make all protected disclosures involving any violation of law, rule, regulation, or contract as soon as they become aware of it. The failure to act upon a specific protected disclosure is a basis for administrative action against them, including termination.
Taking Civil Action Against Unlawful Retaliation
An employee who faces retaliatory action as a result of making a protected disclosure may bring a civil action in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia or challenge the supervisor’s action in an administrative review, arbitration, or adjudication of that action, as discussed earlier. A civil action shall be filed within 1 year after a violation occurs or within 1 year after the employee first becomes aware of the violation. Judicial relief and damages resulting from a civil action could include:
- reinstatement to the same position held before the prohibited personnel action; and
- reinstatement of the employee’s seniority rights, restoration of lost benefits, back pay, compensatory damages, and attorney fees.
Contact Attorney John P. Mahoney, Esq. for Legal Assistance
Under federal and state whistleblower protection laws, government employees have the right to speak up about illegal or unethical conduct their employer is engaging in. An employer’s unlawful retaliation against an employee’s protected or public disclosure can be met with civil action on the employee’s part. If you have questions about your whistleblower rights as a government employee or what information is constituted as protected or public disclosure, contact an experienced attorney immediately. At The Law Firm of John P. Mahoney, Esq., Attorneys at Law, PLLC, we can guide you through whistleblower protection laws and help you take civil action against any violations.
Contact our firm to schedule an initial consultation to discuss your case in more detail.