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Court of Appeals reverses dismissal of Leelanau whistleblower claim

Robert Van Dyke was fired by the Leelanau County administrator from his job as building inspector.  He sued the County and David Gill, the administrator, claiming that the firing was motivated by his activities in reporting code violations and other contruction problems that were not properly handled by the County.  The County asked the local judge to dismiss the claim, arguing that reporting violations of a third-party to your own employer does not fall within the protection of the Whistleblower Protection Act.  The County also argued that Van Dyke could not prove that his "whistle-blowing" activites were the cause of his termination and that simply doing his job by revoking existing permits did not constitute protected activity.

In a mixed decision, the Court of Appeals upheld some of the lower court's holdings but reversed others.  It agreed with the local judge that revoking building permits does not fall within the definition of whiste-blowing (i.e., reporting improper activity to a governmental entity).  On the other hand, it disagreed with the lower court and held that Van Dyke had established a question of fact about several---but not all---of his protected activities being the catalyst of his firing.  For example, while Gill denied notice of some of Van Dyke's protected activities, Van Dyke had proferred evidence that strongly implied that Gill knew and was reacting to protected activity when he fired Van Dyke.

The Court of Appeals also reversed the local judge's decision that the case should be moved from Grand Traverse County, where Van Dyke lives, to Leelanau County.  The language of the Whistleblower Act is rare in that it appears to protect a whisteblower from bias by allowing him or her to file suit outside the County where the protected activity occurred.

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