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The GEO Group, Inc. Message Board

  • mcprison mcprison Mar 17, 2003 12:34 PM Flag

    Whistle blower suit allowed

    Corrections Professional

    March 14, 2003

    SECTION: Vol. 8, No. 12

    LENGTH: 470 words

    HEADLINE: Alleged Wackenhut whistleblower will get his day in court

    BODY:
    The case of a man who said he was fired because he divulged illegal
    activities at a Wackenhut Corrections Corp. facility survived summary judgment
    on appeal.

    The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the man's disclosures were
    protected under California statutes that protect whistleblowers.

    Background: John P. Elliott worked at a facility owned and operated by
    Wackenhut. While he was employed by Wackenhut, he sent several letters to
    government officials complaining about mismanagement at the prison where he
    worked.

    His letters included information that Wackenhut covered up an inmate escape,
    engaged in fraud, mishandled incident reports, allowed sexual and physical
    assaults and drug use by inmates, allowed inmates to possess weapons, retaliated
    against him for seeking various changes, failed to follow the agreement it had
    reached with the government and allowed officers to carry weapons illicitly in
    public.

    Elliott was subsequently suspended without pay and was never allowed to
    return to work. Further, Elliott said Wackenhut did not notify him about the
    status of his employment for many months.

    Once he was notified of his termination, Elliott filed suit against
    Wackenhut. He said his dismissal was because of the letters he sent and that the
    letters included content protected under California Lab.Code 1102.5.

    The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California said the
    information was not protected and dismissed the case.

    Elliott appealed.

    Ruling: The appeals court said it is clear that the alleged actions taken
    against Elliott qualify as an adverse employment action under Section 1102.5.
    Moreover, if Elliott's allegations are true, his employment with WCC was
    permanently terminated. Section 1102.5 says an employer cannot retaliate against
    an employee for disclosing information to a government or law enforcement
    agency, where the employee has reasonable cause to believe that the information
    discloses a violation of state or federal statute or regulation. The District
    Court ruled that, even if Elliott was fired for sending the letters to
    officials, the letters were not protected by Section 1102.5. The 9th Circuit
    disagreed.

    A jury could conclude Elliott might have had reasonable cause to believe that
    his letters included information about violations of federal and state laws. A
    jury could conclude that Elliott's disclosures were thus protected by 1102.5.

    Further, the court said a question of fact also remained as to whether WCC's
    actions against Elliott were in retaliation for protected disclosures.

    "Because we hold that a jury could find that Elliott's letters included
    content protected under Cal. Lab.Code 1102.5, we reverse and remand," the court
    said.

    Elliott v. Wackenhut Corrections Corporation, No. 02-15049 (9th Cir.
    02/20/03).

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