How Do You Win a Whistleblower Retaliation Claim? California Courts Weigh In
| Read Time: 2 minutes | Whistleblower

State and federal law protect employees who “blow the whistle” on their employers. These protections are intended to encourage people who have information about their employers’ unsafe or fraudulent practices to come forward. But how do you prove whistleblower retaliation?

The whistleblower laws protect employees who report illegal employment practices, as well as a wide variety of illegal practices, including:

  • Workplace safety violations
  • Financial crimes and frauds
  • Fraud in government contracting
  • Food safety violations
  • Highway safety violations
  • Money laundering violations

Employers cannot fire, demote, or otherwise punish whistleblowers for sharing protected information with lawyers or law enforcement. If an employer retaliates, the whistleblower has legal claims for retaliation.

An Even More Whistleblower-Friendly Ruling in California

California law protecting whistleblowers from retaliation is even more employee-friendly than federal law. California Labor Code section 1102.5 provides that employers cannot adopt or enforce any rule preventing whistleblowing and outlawed whistleblower retaliation.

Since this law was passed, California courts have struggled to decide which evidentiary standard is appropriate for whistleblower retaliation lawsuits when they do arise. The California Supreme Court recently settled this issue in favor of employees with their decision in Lawson v. PPG Architectural Finishes, Inc., No. S266001, 2022 WL 244731 (Cal. Jan. 27, 2022).

Under Lawson’s two-part standard, the employee must (1) show that retaliation was a “contributing factor” in the employer’s decision to take an adverse employment action against the employee. This means that the retaliation does not need to be the only factor in the termination, demotion, etc. This is important because employers often drum up a variety of flimsy but plausible reasons for disciplining employees.

Once an employee makes this showing, the employer bears the burden of proving that it would have taken the same action for legitimate reasons. If the employer cannot make this showing, the employee wins on the whistleblower retaliation claims.

The California Supreme Court’s recent decision provides even more protections to employees. Now, wronged employees need only show that their whistleblowing was just one factor that contributed to their employer’s retaliation—even if there were other legitimate factors that also contributed to the decision to fire, demote, or reduce hours/pay. Employers should be even more hesitant to retaliate as they will face an uphill battle in court, fighting against an evidentiary standard that works against them. This ruling may also encourage employers to engage in less discriminatory and fraudulent conduct that necessitates whistleblowing in the first place.

Talk to An Experienced Whistleblower and Retaliation Attorney Today

It is important to come forward with information about your employer’s illegal practices. Employees often have personal, inside knowledge of illegal activities. When employers fire employees who speak up, it discourages whistleblowers from doing what is right. This is why it is so important to bring claims for whistleblower retaliation against employers who break the law.

Our experienced retaliation and whistleblower attorneys can help you navigate complex whistleblower laws. We know that these cases are time- and resource-intensive and will devote the necessary energy to bring justice to wronged employees, consumers, and taxpayers. If you have blown the whistle on your employer and have been retaliated against as a result, contact us today.

Contact us today through our website or give us a call at (213) 214-3757 to schedule a free consultation.