Can Whistleblowers Be Terminated in California?

Learn about labor law protections for whistleblowers and the biggest wrongful termination settlement in California.


An employee who suspects AND reports someone at work is breaking the law is classified as a "whistleblower." The offense could be directed at the reporting employee, as with sexual harassment claims, or it could be more common, such as unlawful polluting, securities breaches, and so on. Whistleblowers are often wrongfully terminated from their position after revealing an unethical incident, even though California labor law is intended to protect them from wrongful termination. But, if you've been wrongfully terminated for blowing the whistle, what do you do?


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Wrongful termination laws in California protect whistleblowers.


There are several state and federal whistleblower rights statutes in place that protect all public and private employees who disclose employment violations. Federal whistleblower rights regulations, such as the federal Clean Air Act, Toxic Substance Control Act, Pollution Prevention Act, and other OSHA Whistleblower Protections, make it unconstitutional to terminate employees retribution for filing a lawsuit or reporting wrongdoing, such as health and safety hazards or financial misappropriation.


Similarly, most states find it illegal to terminate workers for disclosing wrongdoing by their employers or any form of corruption. However, these rules differ in terms of who is insured (whether public or private employees) and to whom the defense is provided (such as co-workers and other business entities).


So, let's suppose you've reported a case of sexual harassment, and your manager, rather than coping with the problem, has preferred to fire you as the "troublemaker" instead of disciplining the harasser. Maybe you spotted your manager breaking clean water rules by dumping garbage in a place where it could contaminate nearby bodies of water, and they threatened to fire you because you reported them. So, what exactly do you do?


Depending on the nature of your claim, various labor laws and regulatory departments can provide you with different policies for whistleblower protection. For example, suppose your employer retaliates against you by taking adverse personnel action because you participated in protective conduct related to occupational safety and health. In that case, you can file a lawsuit with OSHA.


Similarly, you can have private rights of redress (i.e., you will sue your employer) if certain labor laws are violated.


If you were wrongfully terminated for being a whistleblower, you could consult with an employment lawyer about filing a California wrongful termination claim. An experienced employment attorney, especially one that focuses on whistleblower lawsuits, will help you recover unpaid salary, back pay, and settlement expenses, among other things. They will even remind you about operating processes that will safeguard your interests.


Administrative trials are often prosecuted by the government, which means you may not be charged. Still, you will be able to take advantage of the government's virtually unlimited leverage in defending your allegations.


What would you do if you see anything at work that needs to improve, but your manager wants to take retaliatory action? Will you be covered, or will your boss be free to fire you at any time? How far would does the right thing put your career in jeopardy?


The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a range of laws aimed at safeguarding whistleblowers. The Whistleblower Protection Scheme of OSHA enforces the legislative and administrative protections of over twenty separate laws that cover workers who disclose violations of numerous occupational safety and other conditions. Indeed, the Whistleblower Protection Program covers those who pose questions on a wide range of issues affecting the whistleblower's safety and well-being.


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This policy, for example, protects those who report concerns about aircraft, private motor carriers, consumer goods, environmental breaches, financial violations, food protection problems, health insurance fraud, motor vehicle safety, nuclear safety and proliferation, utility pipelines, public transit, railroads, cars, securities violations, and many more.


Whistleblower compensation provisions have before-mentioned protections, such as workplace inclusion in safety and wellness programs, mechanisms for documenting a work-related accident, sickness, or death, and ways to disclose a violation of the legislation.


The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 ("SOX") has been one of the most important whistleblower defense sources in recent years. Unlike other whistleblower legislation, the SOX's whistleblower rights go beyond just having a civil solution for workers that have been wrongfully terminated. It also has four clauses that are closely related to whistleblower protection:


1. Internal and outside "audit boards" must be established for all publicly listed companies. Companies must also develop protocols for workers to file internal whistleblower lawsuits and safeguards to preserve the confidentiality of these employees part of this method.


2. Employment attorneys who work with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to follow a revised series of legal guidelines. These provisions compel lawyers to blow the whistle on their own clients under some cases. This unpopular clause has sparked outrage because it contradicts long-standing attorney-client privilege legislation.


3. Taking action against a whistleblower who gives honest information to law enforcement about the SEC or the alleged commission of any Federal crime may be called federal obstruction of justice and criminal retribution. This rule extends to all employers in the United States, not only publicly traded businesses.


4. The SOX provides a compliance clause that states that "every breach of this Act by any party... shall be considered for all purposes as a violation of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934." To put it another way, the SEC has authority over any part of the SOX, even the various whistleblower-related clauses, and will prosecute anybody who violates the SOX, including the whistleblower-related provisions.


The Sarbanes-Oxley Act's four sections offer much of the basis for current whistleblower protection. A SOX clause also allows whistleblowers to file a lawsuit with the US Department of Labor, claiming unconstitutional retaliation. The Department of Labor has a large body of legislation that interprets whistleblower protections, as well as a regulation that protects those who blow the whistle on their employers.


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The biggest wrongful termination case settlement in California


A jury in Los Angeles awarded a whistleblower more than $25 million in a wrongful termination lawsuit after he was fired for exposing a Minnesota medical device company's fraudulent pricing practices and surgeon kickbacks.


Steven Babyak won his case in Los Angeles Superior Court against his former employer, St. Paul-based Cardiovascular Systems Inc., for both whistleblower intimidation and wrongful termination. The jury on this case awarded $2.7 million in compensatory damages for missed earnings in the past and future and $22.4 million in punitive damages due to wrongful termination.


"CSI dismissed our client after he informed upper management of an alleged kickback system to doctors," Babyak's Los Angeles employment attorneys, said in a statement. "We are hopeful that the CSI board of directors would take firm action against the executives who wrongfully terminated Mr. Babyak and then attempted to cover it up."


In a tweet, CSI said, "CSI is committed to fair corporate practices throughout the organization." "The company claimed that the wrongful termination lawsuit wasn't fair in terms of fault, compensatory damages, and punitive damages, as well as the appropriateness and duration of punitive damages." They intend to appeal the court's decision.


Babyak was a regional sales manager in the southwest United States for CSI, which produces and markets drugs to treat peripheral and coronary artery disease. He had five sales managers reporting to him.


According to the wrongful termination lawsuit, his boss, area sales director Todd Goldberg, presented a new idea to his staff called the "Triangle Offense" in mid-2014. CSI sales reps gained patient knowledge through their interactions with referral providers as the first step in the approach. The sales reps would then approach their surgeons' network, offering to link them with patients and services if they wanted to use CSI's device.


On many occasions, Babyak expressed his complaints to Goldberg, the company's legal counsel, and the human resources department.


The wrongful termination claim explained that CSI accepted the allegations and initiated an internal inquiry, interviewing several members of Babyak's staff who corroborated his testimony and believed Goldberg was retaliating against them. His allegation was determined to be without merit by the company's inquiry, which found no proof of revenge.


Despite this, CSI sent Goldberg a formal notice a month later for breaking the company's rules for engaging with health care workers and threatening sales staff who were fearful of his response.


The wrongful termination lawsuit stated that Babyak was transferred under a new administrator and never received written or verbal warnings. His revenue quota was expanded, but his geographical area was reduced. On June 1, 2015, he was abruptly fired from his position. The reason given by the corporation was a delay in filing paperwork.


This isn't the first time a whistleblower has accused CSI of paying money to physicians who use its drugs.


According to court records unsealed in 2015 in 2013, former employee Travis Thams accused CSI of engaging in "a deceptive marketing operation... to increase its earnings by an alleged system of bribery and deceit including illicit kickbacks, off-label advertising, and violations of labor laws and regulations."


The firm decided to pay $8 million to end a False Claims Act case. CSI has entered into a "corporate ethics deal" with the US Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Inspector General simultaneously after a federal investigation. The company was ordered to comply with the deal for the next five years.


If you think you were wrongfully terminated because of your whistleblowing, you should get legal advice. An employment lawyer may help you complete the necessary documentation to begin your wrongful termination lawsuit and direct you to the proper authorities to report criminal retaliation.


How Do I Request An Unbiased Referral To A Pre-Screened, Ethical California Wrongful Termination Lawyer?

  1. You can submit a request online 24 hours a day. Free case review within 15 minutes.

  2. By chat, you'll be connected with an employment lawyer specialized in California wrongful termination within 5 minutes.

  3. By calling the employee right's 24-hour hotline at 1-661-310-7999

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