Supreme Court Issues Major Ruling Affecting Federal Workers Violating Agency Regulations

On January 21, 2015, the United States Supreme Court issued a ruling determining that federal workers that violate agency regulations are still covered by federal whistleblower protections. The case was DHS v. MacLean, and involved an agent of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) who disclosed information that he was prohibited to give by TSA regulations. According to the Supreme Court, regulations are not laws, which meant that the agent was justified in his actions and eligible for coverage under whistleblower protection programs.

The agent in question is Robert MacLean, an Air Marshall that works for TSA. The events of the case go back to 2003, when MacLean received a text message saying that missions on flights from Las Vegas were canceled, as the Agency had uncovered information of a potential plot to hijack American airplanes.

MacLean shared the contents of this text message with a reporter from MSNBC, believing he was doing his part to alert the general public to danger. The TSA had not classified the information in the text messages as being sensitive, which would have prohibited recipients from sharing it. Once this disclosure was discovered in a later investigation, the TSA retroactively changed the classification of the message to sensitive and then fired MacLean for revealing its contents. The U.S. Court of Appeals eventually ruled in his favor, determining that the regulations TSA issued were not the same as laws, and that MacLean was eligible for whistleblower protection. This ruling by the Supreme Court upholds the ruling of the appeals court.

If you are concerned about wrongful termination should you report misconduct within your workplace, reach out to the knowledgeable lawyers at Whistleblower Law for Managers in Dallas.