The Court of Appeals just released a decision reinstating a state employee’s wrongful termination case. Tyson Lawson, a member of the Bowie State University Police Department objected to an arrest that he believed was constitutionally defective. He was fired for violating the chain of command in his reporting of the incident and his suspicions. He lost at his administrative hearing because the administrative judge believed that his report of wrongdoing was motivated by his personal interest in changing the department’s culture, rather than his reasonable belief that his disclosure evidenced a violation of law, abuse of authority, gross mismanagement, gross waste of money, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.
The State’s highest court rejected that analysis. The employee need not “possess a purely altruistic motive for the disclosure.” The public welfare is served by having employees disclose violations of law and waste of public money. To obtain protection under the whistleblower law, “an employee must prove that a reasonable person would believe the disclosure exposes a violation,” not that the violation actually occurred.
Whistleblowers may well be the people who want changes to the department, or to government as a whole. They are not altruistic bystanders, they are on the inside, and usually in a better position to uncover abuses. They are probably well aware that blowing the whistle will cause them problems. By disallowing a focus on their motivations, the Court adds some welcome protection for people willing to speak out.