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Employment - Employees May Sue for Retaliatory Firing


The law relating to whistleblowers in the workplace is a rapidly developing area. A "whistleblower" is an employee who reports on an employer's illegal activities and then suffers retaliatory action by the employer. In the past few years, many whistleblowers have been in the news and even have been featured in movies, such as the tobacco industry whistleblower depicted in the movie "The Insider." Stories of personal and professional ruin are not uncommon among whistleblowers. Consequently, both state and federal laws have been crafted to protect employees and to encourage the reporting of illegal activities in the workplace.

Recently, the federal court in Illinois extended the protection afforded whistleblowers. The court determined that an employer cannot retaliate by discharging or discriminating against an employee who has filed a complaint or begun proceedings even if the action turns out to be without merit. The plaintiff had reported his employer for violating the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) regarding minimum wage and maximum hours regulations. The court ruled that the employer was not covered by the FLSA because the company's gross annual sales were under the limit required by the law. Nevertheless, the court said that Congress wanted to encourage the reporting of suspected violations by extending protection to employees who file complaints, institute proceedings, or even testify in such proceedings. The court stated that as long as the alleged violations concern minimum wage or maximum hours laws there is no requirement that those laws actually be violated. The employee need only have a good-faith belief that the laws may have been violated.

In another whistleblower case, the court upheld an award to a woman who was harassed out of her job by a superior whom she reported for falsifying the results of quality control tests. The whistleblower successfully proved that she was, in effect, fired from her job for reporting illegal activity. She was able to recover double back pay, emotional distress damages, and attorney's fees and costs.

This website is not intended to constitute legal advice or the provision of legal services. By posting and/or maintaining the website and its contents, Lucas Law does not intend to solicit business from clients located in states or jurisdictions outside of Illinois wherein Lucas Law or its individual attorney(s) are not licensed or authorized to practice law.

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