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Who qualifies as a whistleblower?
Different statutes protect whistleblowers who engage in various activities. Whistleblowers often report illegal or unethical conduct on the part of a business, organization, or government agency or official. Whistleblowers have been instrumental in rooting out fraud, price-fixing, code or safety violations, abuse of authority, unfair practices, discrimination, false claims, accounting irregularities, and similar acts. If you have blown the whistle on that type of conduct and believe that you are being punished as a result, you should contact a Connecticut employment attorney to determine whether you are entitled to legal protection.
Whistleblower protection in Connecticut
The principal statute that protects “whistleblowers” under Connecticut law was enacted in 1982 following the Connecticut Supreme Court’s seminal decision in Sheets v. Teddy’s Frosted Foods, Inc., 179 Conn. 471 (1980), which established the tort of wrongful discharge for employees in Connecticut.
Connecticut General Statutes § 31-51m is the primary statutory tort that provides protection to employees against discharge, discipline or other penalty based on reporting, verbally or in writing, to a public body, a violation or suspected violation of any state or federal law or regulation, or any municipal ordinance or regulation.
In addition, an employee of a municipality is also protected when reporting unethical practices, mismanagement or abuse of authority by such employer to a public body. Section 31-51m claims must be brought within 90 of the violation or within 90 days of the exhaustion of all available administrative remedies, whichever is later. If a violation of the statute is established the employee may be entitled to reinstatement, back wages and benefits and reasonable attorneys’ fees.
In addition to the protection afforded by § 31-51m, the legislature has enacted whistleblower protection for particular classes of employees in order to encourage reporting of suspected abuse or disclosure when the safety of the public is at issue. Connecticut General Statutes § 17b-451(e) provides the remedies afforded by § 31-51m to any person who is discharged, discriminated or retaliated against because of reporting abuse to the elderly.
Section 16-8a provides whistleblower protection to employee of a “public service company” but the complaint must be filed with the Department of Public Utility Control. Whistleblowing protection is provided to employees who reveal fraud against shareholders by corporations organized or authorized to transact business in this state under Connecticut General Statutes § 33-1336 (a).
A civil action for discharge or discrimination may be brought against any person who violates this section in Superior Court seeking damages or injunctive relief. State employees, quasi-public employees and employees of large state contractors may not be retaliated against for reporting information to the Auditor of Public Accounts or the Attorney General under Connecticut General Statutes § 4-61dd. This statute provides for an internal investigation by the Attorney General and remedies through the executive branch.
Finally, Connecticut General Statutes § 38a-479ff protects employee from retaliation for filing complaints with the Insurance Commissioner relating to unfair insurance practices and authorizes a suit in Superior Court for damages and attorneys fees.
Federal protection for whistleblowers
There are Federal laws that protect whistleblowers from a number of retaliatory acts. Laws and statutes include:
The First Amendment: An employer is prohibited from retaliating against an employee who exercises their right to free speech in “matters of public concern” as long as it does not interfere with the employee’s job performance
Department of Defense Authorization Act: This makes it illegal for a defense contractor or subcontractor to “discharge, demote or otherwise discriminate” against an employee who has disclosed evidence of gross mismanagement of public health and safety to a Member of Congress
Dodd-Frank Act: This act “prohibits employers from discharging or otherwise discriminating against an individual for providing information related to a violation of the securities laws to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) or initiating, testifying in, or assisting in any investigation or judicial or administrative action of the SEC based upon or related to such”
False Claims Act: One of the original anti-retaliation acts, this law is used to hold those who defraud the government liable for their actions; but it also makes it illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee who pursues action under this act
Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002: This anti-fraud act also makes it illegal for “publicly traded companies, including any subsidiaries or affiliates …from discharging, demoting, suspending, threatening, harassing, or in any other manner discriminating against an employee because such employee provided information, assisted in an investigation, or filed, testified, or participated in a proceeding regarding any conduct that the employee reasonably believes is a violation of SOX, any SEC rule or regulation, or any federal statute relating to fraud against shareholders, when the information or assistance is provided to a federal regulatory or law enforcement agency, any Member or committee of Congress, or a person with supervisory authority.”
If you are a current or former federal employee or member of the military, you may also seek protection for retaliation for legitimately disclosing “evidence of waste, fraud or abuse” under the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012. This act strengthens protection for federal employees by clarifying the law, and includes protection in cases where an employee “reasonably believes are evidence of censorship related to research, analysis, or technical information that causes, or will cause, a gross government waste or gross mismanagement, an abuse of authority, a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety, or any violation of law. It expands the penalties imposed for violating whistleblower protections.”
Forms of retaliation may include denial of promotions, benefits or bonuses, being subjected to a hostile or even unsafe working environment, or employment sanctions, including “blacklisting.” These forms of retaliation are illegal. If you are a whistleblower and have been punished by your employer, you should speak to a whistleblower rights attorney.
To learn more, please contact us online or call us at (860) 246-2466 to schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your case.