Police Chief's whistleblower case is reinstated; Henry Saad opinion went too far even for conservatives
Bruce Whitman, the Chief of Police for the City of Burton, sued the City and the Mayor after the Mayor refused to renew his contract of employment. Whitman had won a long-running battle with the Mayor over payment of unused sick and vacation days for the chief and his officers. A City ordinance required payment of the unused days, and Whitman wouldn't let the issue rest until the city's attorneys advised that the time must be paid. The Mayor then refused to renew the Chief's employment agreement and explained to officers that his problems with the Chief began with the ordinance issue.
Whitman filed a Whistleblower Protection Act alleging retaliation. He secured a jury verdict in his favor, despite the defendants' argument that his employment termination was unrelated to his assertion of the right to sick and leave time. The Court of Appeals panel that heard the City's appeal reversed Whitman's verdict in a 2-1 decision. The two reversing judges ruled that a prior decision of the Republican majority on the Supreme Court required dismissal of Whitman's claim because he was motivated by his own financial interest and not by a desire to inform the public regarding the impropriety of the City's actions. Judge Beckering filed a dissent pointing out that nothing in the WPA language required an evaluation of the whistleblower's motivation: Judges Saad and O'Connell were reaching to far to reject the Chief's claims.Whitman appealed and this week a unanimous Supreme Court decision agreed with Judge Beckering. It reversed the Court of Appeals' decision but did not uphold the verdict. It sent the case back to the Court of Appeals to address issues raised by the parties in the original appeal but but not decided. Perhaps the Chief will collect the verdict arising from his wrongful termination in 2007--a little over $200,000.00--within our lifetime. Meanwhile, it appears Judge Saad will continue to stretch the facts and law as far as he can in every appeal, in an effort to rule against plaintiffs. I suppose it is slightly reassuring that at least sometimes he will be reversed if he goes too far even for a conservative Supreme Court.