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January 02, 2014

Retaliatory Discharge – Whistleblower

CaseLarry D. Williams v. City of Burns, Tennessee

Issue:  Can a whistleblower sue for retaliatory discharge after being fired for disloyalty?

Facts:  A terminated police officer filed for retaliatory discharge, alleging he was terminated for reporting illegal activities. The trial court held that the evidence did not establish that the officer had been terminated solely for his refusal to remain silent about the illegal activities, because the officer had gone outside the “chain of command” and was insubordinate.

Appellate Decision: The intermediate court reversed, holding that the reasons given for termination were pretextual within the meaning of the “whistleblower statute,” Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-1-304. The court noted that following the “chain of command” in this context would have been contrary to the purpose of the law because the officer would have had to report to one of the people accused of wrongdoing.

Review Granted:  December 17, 2013

Prediction:  Ben thinks the supreme court will affirm in favor of the officer. Allowing discharge for whistleblowing would take the teeth out of the whistleblower statute.