As you likely know, federal whistleblower laws are designed to protect relators from backlash or adverse employment decisions based solely on the whistleblower’s decision to come forward. Known as anti-retaliation laws, employees who opt to file a whistleblower lawsuit under the False Claims Act may also advance a separate cause of action for damages in the event they lose their job,experience a demotion, or are punished in any way based on their decision to come forward and report fraud. In a case traversing the Connecticut state courts, the Connecticut Supreme Court is primed to review whether its anti-retaliation provisions (which are currently friendlier to employees than federal law) should be reined in, thereby affording corporations the opportunity to terminate an employee for choosing to come forward – a tactic which raises significant First Amendment freedom of speech implications.
Details of Trusz v. USB Realty Investors
Plaintiff whistleblower Richard Trusz was a one-time executive with Swiss-based USB, which maintains its American headquarters in Hartford, Connecticut. During his tenure at USB, Trusz was tasked with running the valuations department in USB’s realty division. In 2008, Trusz became concerned with what he deemed to be inflated and over-valued realty evaluations, which lead to excessive and unnecessary fees for clients. After bringing the accusations to light, Trusz was allegedly subjected to hostile and adverse treatment, and was thereafter fired in August of 2008.
The case has made its way into the Connecticut Supreme Court, which must make a decision in light of a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling regarding whistleblowers’ rights under the First Amendment and its freedom of speech provisions. Specifically, Trusz advances the argument that the company retaliated against him for engaging in protected activity (i.e., talking about the alleged fraud occurring at USB).
The applicable U.S. Supreme Court case, Garcetti v. Ceballos, stands for the notion that First Amendment protections against the unlawful interference with free speech do not necessarily apply when the speaker is engaged in work-related activities. Specifically, the Court held that speakers making statements pursuant to their job-related duties are not considered “citizens” at the time; therefore, the First Amendment does not apply to insulate the employee from retaliation by employers.
This case is distinguishable, in that Garcetti involved allegations by public sector workers, whereas Trusz was employed by private sector USB. The Connecticut statute applicable to the issue is not limited to public speech only; however, the Connecticut District Court framed the issue as whether Trusz, at the time he reported the over-valuations, was speaking on issues of public concern, as opposed to whether he was speaking as a public employee.
The outcome of the case could have a significant impact on the financial sector as several investment and hedge fund firms have set up shop in Connecticut due to its close proximity to New York City’s Wall Street.
Contact a Reputable Whistleblower Attorney Today
If you recently experienced unlawful retaliation at your job and would like to speak with a whistleblower attorney about your experience, please contact Berger Montague today.