Supreme Court reverses Court of Appeals; reinstates whistleblower claim
Cheryl Derano-Griffin sued Lake County after it eliminated her position. A jury found that her position was dropped from the budget in retaliation for reporting the County's violation of laws governing ambulance operations. In essence, she claimed that the County was mis-using funds that had been voted for the specific purpose of providing emergency ambulance service. Derano-Griffin secured a verdict against the County, but the Court of Appeals overturned the verdict in 2009, with two of the judges arguing that her claims of legal violation were too vague or ambiguous to be protected activity under the Whistleblower Protection Act.
This week the Supreme Court unanimously rejected the holding in the lower court and remanded the case to the Court of Appeals to consider the County's other legal arguments. The Supreme Court pointed out, consistent with Judge Michael Kelly's dissent in the Court of Appeals, that Derano-Griffin's actions in reporting a "suspected violation" of an existing law, were clearly within the parameters of the statute granting protection to employees. The employee need not be an expert capable of specifying the citation of a law being broken in order to qualify for protection.