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Thursday, May 15, 2014

A complaint asserting a claim under Labor Law §740.(2) -- the Whistle Blower Law -- need not identify the specific "law, rule or regulation" allegedly violated by the employer


A complaint asserting a claim under Labor Law §740.(2) -- the Whistle Blower Law -- need not identify the specific "law, rule or regulation" allegedly violated by the employer
Webb-Weber v Community Action for Human Servs., Inc., 2014 NY Slip Op 03428, Court of Appeals

Civil Service Law §75-b* and Labor Law §740(2)** are commonly referred to as "whistleblower statutes,” and prohibit the employer from taking retaliatory personnel action against an employee because the employee discloses, or threatens to disclose to a supervisor or to a public body, an activity, policy or practice of the employer that is in violation of law, rule or regulation.

In Webb-Weber the “narrow issue” before the Court of Appeals was whether a complaint asserting a claim under §740(2) must identify the specific "law, rule or regulation" allegedly violated by the employer. 

The Court of Appeals concluded that there is no such requirement, holding that  “[t]he reasonable interpretation is that, in order to recover under a §740 claim, a plaintiff must show that [he or] she reported or threatened to report the employer's "activity, policy or practice." Quoting Richard A. Givens’ statement in Practice Commentaries,*** the Court of Appeals said that “the practice --- not the legal basis for finding it to be a violation — appears to be what must be reported."

Thus, for pleading purposes, the court ruled that the complaint need not specify the actual law, rule or regulation violated, although it must identify the particular activities, policies or practices in which the employer allegedly engaged, so that the complaint provides the employer with notice of the alleged complained-of conduct.

The Court of Appeals observed that in order to recover under a Labor Law §740 theory, the plaintiff has the burden of proving [1] that an actual violation occurred, in contrast to merely establishing that the plaintiff possessed a reasonable belief that a violation occurred, citing Bordell v General Elec. Co., 88 NY2d 869, and [2] that the violation must be of the kind that "creates a substantial and specific danger to the public health or safety," citing Remba v Federation Empl. & Guidance Serv., 76 NY2d 801.

* Civil Service Law 75-b.2(a) provides as follows: A public employer shall not dismiss or take other disciplinary or other adverse personnel action against a public employee regarding the employee's employment because the employee discloses to a governmental body information: (i) regarding a violation of a law, rule or regulation which violation creates and presents a substantial and specific danger to the public health or safety; or (ii) which the employee reasonably believes to be true and reasonably believes constitutes an improper governmental action. "Improper governmental action" shall mean any action by a public employer or employee, or an agent of such employer or employee, which is undertaken in the performance of such agent's official duties, whether or not such action is within the scope of his employment, and which is in violation of any federal, state or local law, rule or regulation.

** Labor Law §740(2) provides as follows: Prohibitions. An employer shall not take any retaliatory personnel action against an employee because such employee does any of the following: (a) discloses, or threatens to disclose to a supervisor or to a public body an activity, policy or practice of the employer that is in violation of law, rule or regulation which violation creates and presents a substantial and specific danger to the public health or safety, or which constitutes health care fraud; (b) provides information to, or testifies before, any public body conducting an investigation, hearing or inquiry into any such violation of a law, rule or regulation by such employer; or (c) objects to, or refuses to participate in any such activity, policy or practice in violation of a law, rule or regulation.

*** Givens, Practice Commentaries, McKinneys Cons Laws of NY, Book 30, Labor Law §740, at 549 [1988 ed].

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2014/2014_03428.htm
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Handbooks focusing on State and Municipal Public Personnel Law continue to be available for purchase via the links provided below:

The Discipline Book at http://thedisciplinebook.blogspot.com/

A Reasonable Penalty Under The Circumstances at http://nypplarchives.blogspot.com

The Disability Benefits E-book: at http://section207.blogspot.com/

Layoff, Preferred Lists at http://nylayoff.blogspot.com/

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