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"Whistleblowers tend to be morally principled individuals that are seeing wrong at their place of employment," said Shereef Akeel, a Troy attorney with Akeel & Valentine, who has practiced whistleblower law for 21 years. "They see their family pictures on their desk and know that if they say nothing, they will keep their job and take care of their family. But they see the wrongdoing going on, and can't live with it, so they risk it all. They are constantly trying to balance the repercussions of blowing the whistle versus saying nothing and allowing the wrongs to continue. Then their conscience gets the better of them. Their silence is taut approval of the wrongdoing."
The WPA of 1989 is a federal law that protects federal employees who work for the government and report misconduct. A federal agency violates the Whistleblower Protection Act if agency authorities take, or threaten to take, retaliatory action against an employee – or an applicant for a job – because of the disclosure of information that the employee or applicant made. In Michigan, the Whistleblower Protection Act is intended to protect employees, public and private, from wrongful termination or retaliation in a protected activity. Protected activities include those employees who have reported a violation of law, regulation or rule to a public body; employees who were about to report a violation; or employees who have participated in hearings, investigations, or legislative inquiries.
While a whistleblower does not have to work for the government or a government agency, and many whistleblowers do work for private companies, in order to file a whistleblower protection lawsuit, they must report the wrongdoing to a government agency, and not just to the human resources department of their company.
"There's a misconception about WPA, and about working at a private company, like GM or Ford," said Akeel. "If they report it to the HR department, they think they've blown the whistle and are protected – but they're not. You have to go outside the company to a public agency, like the EPA or DNR."
Akeel said there is only one exception, which is called the Kilpatrick Rule, after former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. "If you are working for a city or university – if you're a public employee – if you report it up the chain of command, you're protected," he said.
In 2007, two former Detroit police officers, Gary Brown and Harold Nelthrope, prevailed in a whistleblower lawsuit against Kilpatrick and the city of Detroit, saying city officials made them suffer after they raised questions about alleged wrongdoing within Kilpatrick's security unit. The two were awarded $6.5 million....continued on page 3