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Whistleblowers better be squeaky clean

Linda and Lawrence Giffels were employed by the Millington School System.  They attended a conference in Mt. Pleasant in April of 2007, and in May turned in an altered breakfast receipt that would wrongfully allow them a $12 reimbursement.   A bus driver who had previously made the same error in judgment had been given a two-day disciplinary suspension.  The Giffels made the mistake of "blowing the whistle" on the ineligibility of Superintendent Lawrence Kroswek's choice for School Board, however, while Kroswek was "investigating" the Giffels' $12 mis-use of their expense reimbursement.  Kroswek immediately terminated Lawrence Giffels and sought discipline of Linda under the union contract.

The Giffels filed suit, alleging that Kroswek's discipline was selective and in retaliation for Giffels' complaint that rendered Kroswek's Board member choice ineligible.  The trial court agreed and refused to dismiss the Giffels' legal action under the Whistleblower Protection Act [WPA].  The Court of Appeals reversed.  Judges Servitto, Fort Hood and Stephens ruled that the Giffels had not met their burden of demonstrating a causal relationship between their reporting activity and their allegedly disproportionate and selective discipline.

Even though Kroswek apparently fired Larry Giffels within four days of learning that his complaint led to the disqualification of Kroswek's Board choice, and even though Kroswek apparently sought a teacher tenure hearing on Linda Giffels the day he learned of her husband's WPA claim, Judges Servitto, Fort Hood and Stephens concluded that the temporal relationship, without more, was "merely a coincidence."  As for the apparently selective and disproportionate punishment meted out, "The enforcement was not selective, even though the punishment varied." 

While the WPA is to be "liberally construed" to protect "whistleblowers," it is apparent that some judges honor this imprecation only semantically.  If you are inclined to report illegal conduct, better be sure you don't have a $12.00 skeleton in your closet, or all bets (and protections) are off.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
309 East Front Street
Traverse City, Michigan 49684
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