Employee’s Reporting of Potential Future Violation of Law, Regulation or Rule Sufficient to Trigger “Protected Activity” Element in Whistleblower’s Protection Act Claim

In Pace v. Jessica Edel-Harrelson, et al, issued on February 24, 2015, the Michigan Court of Appeals addressed a Whistleblowers Protection Act claim.

There are two remarkable points to the case.  The first is that the COA panel (Shapiro, Gleicher and Roynayne-Krause) holds that reporting a suspected future violation of a regulation, law or rule is sufficient to trigger the protected activity element of the WPA. 

The second aspect that is interesting is the court addresses the causation analysis under the WPA and, particularly, rejects the defendant employer’s claim that any reporting of a violation by the plaintiff was merely temporally related to the incidents which the defendant-employer claims justified the plaintiff’s termination.

 In the end, the Court of Appeals here returns the WPA claim to the trial court because questions of fact remained over whether there was ever any planned future violation of a rule (misappropriation of the employer’s funds by another employee), and whether plaintiff actually engaged in the conduct for which she was allegedly terminated (threatening and intimidating a co-employee), and whether the plaintiff could prove causation.

 

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