By Michael Abate, KPA General Counsel
Below is a brief summary of the recent Kentucky Supreme Court decision that dealt with the Kentucky Whistleblower Act. The decision was handed down last week and we asked KPA General Counsel/KPA FOI Hotline attorney to write about its significance.
In Laurel Harper, et al. v. University of Louisville, the Kentucky Supreme Court upheld a jury verdict awarding damages for back pay, mental anguish, and attorneys fee to Laurel Harper, a former employee of the University of Louisville. Ms. Harper’s job was eliminated in early 2011 after she had made a series of reports about suspected waste and mismanagement in the University’s Office of Communications and Marketing. The Supreme Court determined that Ms. Harper was protected by Kentucky’s Whistleblower Act, which prohibits retaliation against public employees who disclose actual or suspected mismanagement, waste, fraud, and abuse of authority within the government. The decision included two important developments in the law.
- First, the Court affirmed that a disclosure based on an employee’s reasonable belief that an agency is engaged in wrongdoing can be protected under the Act. This reversed the Court of Appeals, which had held that an employee’s personal opinions could not be subject to protection.
- Second, a disclosure protected under the act must be made to an “appropriate body or authority” – meaning an entity with “authority to remedy or report” the perceived misconduct. The Court specifically held that a disclosure to the press, even if undertaken with the intent to bring wasteful spending or other mismanagement to light, would not be protected under the Whistleblower law, because the news media is not an appropriate body or authority within the meaning of the statute.