Court of Appeals again dismisses jury verdict in favor of Lake County whistleblower
Cheryl Debano-Griffin sued the Lake County Board of Commissioners after they terminated her position. Debano-Griffin had blown the whistle on the County's mis-use of ambulance funds. The month before she blew the whistle, her job was included in the next year's budget. The month after she blew the whistle, her job was eliminated in an alleged restructuring response to a budgetary crisis. The Jury agreed that the County had terminated the Plaintiff for blowing the whistle on the mis-use of ambulance funds and awarded her a verdict against the County.The higher court overturned the verdict and ultimately the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals' decision and sent the case back for further consideration by the intermediate court. This month, a majority of the Court of Appeals again dismissed Debano-Griffin's claim over the strenuous objection of Judge Cynthia Stephens. The two judges voting to overturn argued that Debano-Griffin did not adequately prove a causal relationship between her whistle-blowing activity and the termination of her job. Judge Stephens agreed with the trial judge that the Plaintiff had shown more than a "mere temporal relationship" between her legal activity and her dismissal.
Judge Stephens' dissent noted that in the month before Debano-Griffin's termination by "restructuring," the County's own Independent Auditor's Report had adequately demonstrated that the County was not in the dire financial condition which it claimed. On this basis, the jury was well within the law when it concluded that the restructuring claim was merely a pretext for the County's illegal retaliation against Debano-Griffin.