WHISTLEBLOWERS -- On a 50-24 vote, the California State Assembly today approved legislation to provide University of California employees who report waste, fraud and abuse with the same legal protections as other state employees, reports the office of its author, Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo).
In July 2008, the California Supreme Court ruled that UC employees who are retaliated against because they report wrongdoing cannot sue for damages under the state’s Whistleblower Protection Act, so long as the University itself reviews the complaints in a timely fashion. The ruling uncovered an oversight made by the Legislature when the Act was amended in 2001, which provided legal standing for all other state employees, including employees of the California State University, to seek damages.
In response to the Court’s decision in Miklosy v. the Regents of the University of California (S139133, July 31, 2008), Senator Yee introduced Senate Bill 219. SB 219 is one of several good governance proposals opposed by the UC Board of Regents.
“This is the classic case of the fox guarding the hen house, and yet another example of UC administrators opposing a commonsense reform,” said Yee. “UC executives should not be judge and jury on whether or not they are liable for monetary claims. This was not the intent of California’s whistleblower law. In light of the Court’s ruling, it is imperative that the Governor sign SB 219 to immediately correct this statute and protect UC workers from unfair retaliation for rightfully reporting waste, fraud, or abuse.”
While the Court was unanimous in their ruling, three of the seven judges urged the Legislature to consider changes to the law, as the current statute undermines the purpose of the Act.
“The court’s reading of the Act, making the University the judge of its own civil liability and leaving its employees vulnerable to retaliation for reporting abuses, thwarts the demonstrated legislative intent to protect those employees and thereby encourage candid reporting,” wrote Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar, joined by Chief Justice Ronald George and Justice Carlos Moreno. “If the same government organization that has tried to silence the reporting employee also sits in final judgment of the employee’s retaliation claim, the law’s protection against retaliation is illusory.”
The Miklosy decision deals with the plight of two former scientists at UC’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, who repeatedly told their supervisors about equipment problems and poorly trained operators of a project designed to determine the safety and reliability of the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile. One of the scientists, Leo Miklosy, was fired in February 2003 and the other, Luciana Messina, resigned a few days later after overhearing a supervisor say she would also be fired.