Court of Appeals again dismisses Whistleblower verdict for inadequate proof
Cheryl Debano-Griffin secured a verdict against Lake County after her job was terminated. She proved to the jury's satisfaction that she was terminated for questioning illegal use of ambulance funds by the County. Nevertheless, the Court of Appeals overturned the verdict because she could not cite the precise statute which she believed he County was violating. The Michigan Supreme Court reversed and sent the case back to the Court of Appeals, holding that if Debano-Griffin reported a suspected violation of law, she was entitled to Whistleblower Protection, regardless of whether she had a lawyer's understanding of the precise violation.On remand, two of the three Court of Appeals judges once again overturned the verdict. In their second review of the case, the majority held that the plaintiff hadn't presented adequate proof to corroborate her claim that her firing was in retaliation for "blowing the whistle." The majority deemed that the mere proximity in time between her whistleblowing action and termination of her position did not rise above "speculation" about the employer's motive.
The dissenting Judge, Michael Kelly, pointed out that the plaintiff had presented evidence that her job was budgeted for the following year, prior to her discharge, and that in the same month she was terminated, the County returned the ambulance money to the proper account: on this basis, Kelly believed that the plaintiff had demonstrated sufficient evidence to support the jury's conclusion that the firing was retaliatory. The majority concluded that this evidence wasn't adequate to overcome the County's claim that it eliminated Debano-Griffin's position solely due to budget constraints.