Attorneys in Pennsylvania have seen a lot of worker complaints come their way that they were unable to pursue due to at-will employment. In these cases, the workers come to the law firm disgruntled and looking to sue their employers by blowing the whistle on misconduct. While these cases have historically not been pursuable, recent rulings have opened the door for legal action.
These cases are becoming more attractive to lawyers in recent months. With an influx of case laws establishing plaintiffs in whistleblower cases that involve retaliation should be able to recover noneconomic damages, such as humiliation or emotional distress, there has been more room to pursue former complaints that previously had nowhere to go.
However, whether this should be allowed is still being contested in state court. The state Supreme Court is slated to weigh in on the issue soon, but the cases that have seen the courtroom so far have already begun to loosen the restrictions in these limited cases.
Under current law in Pennsylvania, there is already case law that outlines what a plaintiff can recover on a whistleblower retaliation claim, which states awards should ensure that the plaintiffs are “in no worse a position for having exposed the wrongdoing.” This leaves the question of whether a plaintiff can pursue noneconomic damages up for debate.
After a string of higher profile cases, it is likely the Supreme Court will weigh on the issue when reviewing a $3.2 million award last year in the case Baliets v. Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. In the decision by the Commonwealth Court acting as the court of original jurisdiction, the plaintiff received $1.6 million in noneconomic damages. Commonwealth Court Judge Rochelle Friedman made a pronouncement that whistleblower cases are to also include the option to recover damages “for the mental anguish, humiliation and reputation damage.”
Since the case was heard originally by the Commonwealth Court, the appeal was taken by the Supreme Court, meaning the justices did not agree to discuss any specific issue on appeal. Even still, the turnpike’s appellate brief brings viability to noneconomic damages as a major issue for an appeal. This ruling, as stated in the brief filed April 10 by Duane Morris attorney Robert Byer, the ruling “expands the potential liability for the Commonwealth and goes far beyond what the statute itself provides.”
This could be good news for at-will employees that have been wrongfully terminated after blowing the whistle on misconduct. If you have a case you feel could benefit under these new rulings, contact us at Bochetto & Lentz today. We stay on top of the current trends in legal defense to ensure you get the best results possible.