Justices: Whistleblowers hurt by Calif. High Court ruling

Legal News Line Aug. 1, 2008, 12:54pm

Ronald George

SACRAMENTO, Calif., (Legal Newsline)-The California Supreme Court's dismissal of whistleblower cases filed by two Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory employees could be a blow to protections currently afforded employees who come forward, three justices said.

Though the court made its decision unanimously, citing the "plain language" of the state's whistleblower law, three of the justices said it could hurt employees in the future and urged the state Legislature to clarifying the wording of the law.

Plaintiffs in the case were Leo Miklosky and Luciana Messina, computer scientists who were employed by the Regents of the University of California, to work on a project designed to determine the safety and reliability of the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile.

The pair identified numerous problems with the project, "repeatedly expressed their concerns to management, both orally and in writing," the Supreme Court's opinion states.

On Feb. 28, 2003, Miklosky was fired. As he left the laboratory, he reported hearing his supervisors say, "Messina is next."

Under pressure that included having her computer and phones disconnected, Messina resigned on March 3, 2003. The pair filed a complaint on Aug. 16, 2003 under the state's Whistleblower Act.

After the state's Court of Appeal ruled that Messina and Miklosky had no viable claim under the Act, the Supreme Court agreed to review the case.

Upon its review, the High Court ruled that the Whistleblower Act allows a clear exception for the California University system. A lawsuit seeking damages is only allowed if the university failed to act on a complaint in a timely manner, which the court ruled the university did.

While agreeing with the ruling, Chief Justice Ronald George and Associate Justices Kathryn Werdegar and Carlos Moreno said that the university's loophole will "act powerfully to defeat the purposes of the Whistleblower Protection Act."

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