A whistleblower is an employee who speaks up about problems within their workplace, such as unsafe, unethical, or illegal activity. Federal and state laws protect whistleblowers when their employers retaliate against them for reporting unethical or illegal acts to authorities. Such retaliation could include wrongful termination, demotion, or other negative impact on the terms and conditions of employment.
Kentucky law protects whistleblowing in public workplaces
Kentucky’s whistleblower laws protect both private and public employees from reprisals. A whistleblower who is a state employee can file a civil lawsuit if, after they reported information about the employer, it took adverse employment action against the employee. An employee must establish that the report was “contributing factor” for the adverse employment action, and that a reasonable person believe the disclosure was factor in the employer’s decision. The employer must then offer “clear and convincing evidence” that the whistleblower’s actions were not a “material fact [considered as part of] the personnel action.”
New whistleblower lawsuit in Franklin County
On Oct. 31, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported that a former teacher at the Kentucky School for the Deaf, a public residential school in Danville, filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the principal, superintendent, and the Kentucky Board of Education after the school did not renew her contract.
The school, established in 1823, reportedly has historically been the subject of concern, including alleged problems with staff treatment, food quality, bed bugs and student safety.
Before the principal let her go, the plaintiff had spoken up about safety concerns and other problems she encountered at the school. The Herald-Leader wrote that the lawsuit alleged the school did not renew the teacher’s contract after she “reported violation of law and discrimination against students at the school with disabilities, abuse of authority, and actions creating a substantial danger to the health and safety of students … [including] lack of response to dangerous students.” She also reported to education officials that the school allegedly failed to provide speech therapy students entitled to it for a few months in 2018.
The lawsuit seeks reinstatement, lost wages and benefits, legal fees, and punitive damages.
Seek legal advice quickly
Any public or private employee in Kentucky who believes their employer is punishing them because they reported, in good faith, information about illegal, unsafe, or unethical behavior in the workplace may have a whistleblower claim. They should speak to a lawyer as soon as possible about potential legal remedies.
Similarly, any Kentucky employer facing an allegation of whistleblower retaliation or who needs to respond to an employee’s report to authorities about an alleged ethical, legal, or safety lapse in the workplace should seek immediate legal advice and representation.