California Supreme Court Ruling Makes it More Difficult for Employers to Dismiss Whistleblower Retaliation Claims

A recent opinion from the California Supreme Court makes it more difficult for employers to avoid or dismiss claims of whistleblower retaliation.

The ruling came in the case of Wallen Lawson v. PPG Architectural Finishes Inc. The court unanimously decided to apply more lenient standards of evidence when evaluating whistleblower retaliation claims under the state’s Labor Code instead of using the burden-shifting test often applied in federal discrimination cases.

Case background

Previously the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California had ruled in favor of PPG, determining the McDonnell Douglas test would apply to the litigation. In that scenario, it would be the plaintiff’s responsibility to establish a prima facie case of discrimination or retaliation, and the company would only need to show it had a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for the termination.

Upon appealing the case, the plaintiff argued the court should instead have used the more lenient framework laid out in Labor Code Section 1102.6, which gives the plaintiff the burden only to demonstrate whistleblowing was a “contributing factor” in dismissal.

The California Supreme Court acknowledged there would be some confusion in the evidentiary standards used, and said the state’s more lenient rules should be used in this type of case.

The effect is that it becomes more difficult for employers to escape whistleblower retaliation claims and the penalties they may face as a result of that retaliation. Experts recommend that employers review their company antiretaliation policies and lay out multiple avenues of reporting. In addition, all employees should be trained in what qualifies as whistleblower retaliation and the various legal protections available for whistleblowers.

To learn more about the steps you can take if you’ve been a victim of whistleblower retaliation, contact an experienced whistleblower lawyer at Kardell Law Group.