Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Protect Whistleblowers -Stop Mo. HB2099 and SB592

The Missouri Legislature is considering two bills which will restrict the protections Missouri law affords to Whistleblowers, SB 592 and HB 2099.  These bills eviscerate protections to employees who expose corporate corruption by forcing Whistleblowers to report wrongdoing only to certain employees and by reducing the types of wrongdoing reports merit protection.  The bill further restricts protections by a company's number of employee and reduces punitive damage liability. These changes will reduce or eliminate a terminated whistleblower from recovering from a wrongdoing employer. 

Whistleblowers are good for business, although many businesses do not seem to recognize this fact.  Whistleblowing is good not only for public safety, but also for businesses.  If there had been someone to blow the whistle on Bernie Madoff, think of the people and businesses that would be solvent, with their savings intact.  But, whistleblowing is hard and takes a lot of courage.  It takes a great deal of fortitude to report management wrongdoing for the betterment of society. People generally depend on their pay for food and shelter, and few people are willing to jeopardize their survival for the good of others.  

In fact, the Missouri Legislature, at the behest of the Chamber of Commerce and some individual businesses attempting to prevent courageous citizens from coming forward to report wrongdoing at the peril of society and businesses.  This attack on Whistleblowers stems from a case decided some eight years ago, Dunn v. Enterprise Leasing, where a man sued his employer because he had blown he whistle about corporate business-keeping and was terminated from his employment. He sued and the jury gave the man a substantial verdict, which was upheld by the Court of Appeals. Ever since that verdict, Missouri businesses have lobbied the legislature to prevent protections for whistleblowers.  The new bill makes it harder for concerned employees to come forward, it restricts to whom they should report illegal or suspected illegal activity, it prohibits lawsuits against government and employers operating with fewer employees.  The bill heavily restricts the award of punitive damages, although several years ago the Legislature passed laws require 1/2 of punitive damage awards to go to the State.  This law is purportedly to stem the tidal wave of whistleblower cases brought throughout this great state. 

Employment lawyers in Missouri decided to look into this alleged wave of whistleblower litigation to see how many whistleblower cases have been tried in Missouri since the Enterprise case eight years ago.  And  in those eight years, across the entire great state of Missouri with millions of workers, it appears there have only been eight verdicts in common law whistleblower cases. Eight cases.  Two of the eight juries returned verdicts for the employer and the plaintiff got nothing. 

In at least one of the cases, one that I tried, the case involved an executive director of a professional organization who stole from the company and brought in pornography.  Under the proposed bill, that case could not have been brought because even though the employer was a professional association for physicians with insurance coverage, the company did not have enough employees under the proposed legislation.  

Whistleblowers are rare because most people do not have the courage to criticize their bosses, no matter how much damage is done to the business or to the public.  Wouldn't society and businesses be better served if an employee has the courage to speak up and complain against illegal, corrupt or immoral conduct? We have so few employees willing to come forward and help the businesses they work for by pointing out bad conduct.  Do we really want it to be harder to do the right thing?

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