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Woman asserts her whistleblower rights: $1.2 million award paid

A wrongful termination lawsuit resulted in a $1.2 million court award for a woman who was fired from her job in May 2012. The plaintiff in the lawsuit -- who formerly worked for Fallbook schools as the information technology director -- filed her lawsuit five years ago.

The lawsuit arose after the woman refused to destroy archived emails in the school system's server database. As the IT director for the Fallbrook Union Elementary School District, the woman's superior told her to delete all past emails older than three months. However, the request violated the school district policies, state laws and federal laws, so the woman refused. She also refused because she was concerned that the emails showed evidence of misappropriated school district funds.

After refusing to delete the emails, the school district retaliated against the woman by firing her from the position that she held for the last 19 years. According to the employment law attorney who represented her, the issue was a whistleblower case. She had been asked to do something that was not only against school district policy, but it was also against state and federal law. When she refused to perform the unlawful action, the school district retaliated by terminating her -- which was a violation of state and federal whistleblower protections.

In 2015, after a 15-day trial, the panel that decided the woman's case awarded her $1,046,000 in lost income and an additional $148,000 for emotional distress. Her award for damages totaled $1,194,000. In response, the school district tried to appeal the decision, but the appeal fell flat when the 4th Appellate District Court upheld the previous decision. She finally received her award payment on Oct. 6, 2017.

This case is an excellent example of how courts are not permitted to retaliate against an employee who refuses to break the law. If you are being pressured to break the law at your workplace, it is your legal right -- and ethical responsibility -- to say "no." Rest assured, you can assert your legal rights in court if your refusal to perform an illegal act results in negative employment consequences or retaliation of any kind.

Source: The San Diego Union-Tribune, "Fallbrook schools pays $1.2 million to former employee in whistleblower case," Deborah Sullivan Brennan, Oct. 16, 2017

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