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ARB Rules that Whistleblower’s Motive is Irrelevant

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The Department of Labor’s Administrative Review Board (“ARB”) has affirmed an Administrative Law Judge’s (“ALJ”) decision to award back pay and compensatory damages to a whistleblower for violations of the retaliation provision of the Safe Drinking Water Act (“SDWA”).  In Collins v. Village of Lynchburg, Ohio, Michael Collins alleged that his former employer, the Village of Lynchburg Ohio retaliated against him for making a disclosure to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (“OEPA”) about an alleged violation of the SDWA.  In particular, Collins alleged that his employer was using an improper procedure to test Lynchburg’s water supply.  The employer asserted that Collins did not engage in protected conduct because his disclosure was motivated by personal animus against his supervisors.  The ARB expressly rejected this argument, concluding that “even if [an employee] were motivated by a retaliatory intent in making [a disclosure] to OEPA, a complainant’s motivation in making a safety complaint has no bearing on whether the complaint is protected.”   According to the ARB, an employee’s disclosure is protected so long as the complainant “reasonably believe[d] that a violation of the act occurred,” when he made his disclosure.  Finding that Collins satisfied his burden of proof and that his former employer failed to provide a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for terminating Collins’s employment, the ARB affirmed the ALJ’s decision in favor of  Collins.  For more information on whistleblower protection laws and The Employment Law Group® law firm’s Whistleblower Practice, click here.  

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