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Beware Retaliation Against Whistleblowers

Hillary Pettegrew, Esq.
March 2024

Why Read This

Retaliation claims by whistleblowers are among the costliest, most disruptive lawsuits for K-12 schools, colleges, and universities and can significantly damage their reputations. Employment lawyers consider retaliation claims difficult to defend, and they often strike a chord with juries, which tend to award large verdicts.

In these types of claims, whistleblowers typically allege they suffered reprisal for reporting or complaining about wrongdoing, such as misuse of federal funds or violations of overtime laws.

Most institutions recognize the need to prevent retaliation following an employee complaint about discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, sex, or another protected category. Some may not realize, however, that they must be equally vigilant about preventing retaliation against employees who complain or simply raise questions about other types of illegal or improper conduct.

Key Takeaways

  • Retaliation claims are difficult and expensive to resolve, partly because they can survive and go to trial even if an underlying allegation is dismissed.
  • Three sources of protection for employees who are whistleblowers often pose the greatest risk for institutions: the federal False Claims Act, the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, and similar state laws.
  • Juries may have trouble grasping intricacies of the underlying laws related to retaliation claims, but they understand the natural human tendency to retaliate when accused of wrongdoing.

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