Not all reports of internal wrongdoing are technically considered whistleblower actions. In 2013, the First Circuit Court established an important “job duties” exception related to the Maine Whistleblowers Protection Act. The exception states that employee’s reports are not considered whistleblowing if making such internal reports of wrongdoing is part of the employee’s job.
Since the First Circuit made this exception, several decisions from federal courts have relied on the ruling to grant summary judgment to employers who were defendants in whistleblower claims, despite the fact that the Maine Supreme Judicial Court has not ruled on the viability of the exception.
In one case, Parker v. Boulevard Motel Corp, an assistant supervisor of housekeeping staff claimed she was terminated because she spoke up about the harassment of another housekeeper. A U.S. District Court judge decided to grant summary judgment to the employer, ruling that the plaintiff had been trained by the employer on how to report incidents of harassment. The plaintiff also agreed it was her job to make these reports. Therefore, in the court’s eyes, the report was not protected by anti-retaliation provisions of the MHRA. There is still an appeal of this decision pending, however.
The employer was victorious in this case because it had a written set of training materials and policies in place outlining how the supervisor was responsible for reporting harassment. But employers are encouraged not to overreach in setting reporting obligations as part of employee job descriptions. Although employers may make reasonably fair use of the job duty exception, they can occasionally go too far. The exception is meant to protect employers, not to punish employees.
For more information and guidance on what constitutes protected whistleblower actions, contact the knowledgeable Dallas attorneys at Whistleblower Law for Managers.