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LCW Obtains Dismissal Of Police Officer’s Whistleblower Retaliation Lawsuit
In February 2016, the city hired the officer subject to a one-year probationary period. The officer immediately joined the police officers’ association. In December 2016, the officer attended an association meeting. At that meeting, the association discussed a loan it had made to a corporal, who was then-president of the association. The officer learned the loan was for the purchase of a personal vehicle.
During the meeting, the association’s treasurer confirmed that the loan was proper under the association’s bylaws and had been repaid. In response, the officer stated that the association was not in the business of making loans, and therefore the association’s money should not be used to benefit one individual. The officer was one of many who expressed an opinion during the meeting that the loan was improper or illegal. The association’s members agreed that the association would speak with an attorney to determine whether to remove the loan portion of the bylaws.
In January 2017, the chief of police terminated the officer’s employment for falsely reporting his time worked and then refusing to correct his timesheet when questioned about it by a superior officer. The officer then sued the city, alleging whistleblower retaliation in violation of Labor Code Section 1102.5. The officer alleged the chief terminated him in retaliation for speaking out about potential illegal association conduct. The officer alleged that the association’s treasurer influenced the chief because of the officer’s comments during the association meeting.
The city moved for summary judgment on the ground that the officer could not establish essential elements of a whistleblower retaliation claim. First, the officer could not show he made a protected disclosure of information to a government, a law enforcement agency, or a person with authority over the employee. Second, the city alleged the officer could not show a nexus between any alleged protected disclosure and his termination. Lastly, the city had a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for terminating the officer (i.e., for failing to accurately report his time worked).
The trial court granted summary judgment for the city. The officer appealed, and the Court of Appeal affirmed.
The Court of Appeal held the officer did not make a protected disclosure of information because: 1) his comments were made to the association and its members, and 2) he did not disclose new information during the meeting but merely opined that the loan was illegal based on the facts he learned from the association. As a result, the Court affirmed summary judgment for the city. Since the Court of Appeal determined that the officer could not establish the essential elements of his whistleblower retaliation claim, it did not address the city’s argument that it had a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for terminating the officer’s employment.
A summary judgment motion is a powerful tool that can save public agencies money by getting lawsuits dismissed before trial. LCW attorneys can help public agencies determine whether a case is appropriate for summary judgment.