For the first time, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that non-economic damages, such as for “embarrassment, humiliation, loss of reputation and mental anguish”, are an available form of relief under the Pennsylvania’s Whistleblower Law.
The Whistleblower’s Law protects employees of state and local government entities in Pennsylvania from termination or other adverse employment actions when they report wrongdoing or waste in their entity to their supervisors.
The case of Bailets v. Pa. Turnpike Commission involved an employee of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission who reported concerns about a vendor, including that the vendor was allegedly provided an unfair advantage in the bidding process and that it was providing work that was deficient to the Commission.
On several occasions, the employee was warned to not make waves about this particular vendor due to the connections it had. The employee was eventually terminated. The employee presented evidence that he was humiliated and suffered mental distress as a result of his termination and its effect on him and his family, which he attributed to the protected activity of reporting concerns about the vendor. The Court was asked to rule on whether the employee was only entitled to lost wages or also for damages for the various non-economic harms.
The Court reviewed the Whistleblower Law and determined that its purpose was to make the individual whole and that not including non-economic damages in the award would fail to do so. In addition, the Court found that the statutory language supported including such an award.
Accordingly, the Court found that both economic damages and non-economic damages were proper and affirmed an award of both.
The case presents a clear warning to government employers that the cost of violating the Whistleblower Law likely just got a quite a bit higher.
The Eastern Pennsylvania Employment Log (EPELog) is a publication of the KingSpry Employment Law Practice Group. Jeffrey T. Tucker, Esquire, is our editor-in-chief. EPELog is meant to be informational and does not constitute legal advice.