The U.S. District Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has ruled that four Nevada officials can be sued for allegedly scuttling an investigation into a retaliation complaint filed by a whistleblower who worked at Ear Nose and Throat Associates (ENTA) in Las Vegas, NV.
Helen Armstrong, a human resources supervisor at ENTA, reported the health and safety violations at ENTA in 2014 to the Nevada Occupational Safety and Health Administration (NOSHA), a state agency, when ENTA failed to take action. She alleged, among other things, the practice reused contaminated syringes and sold expired prescriptions.
NOSHA investigated and issued ENTA a fine.
ENTA allegedly immediately began retaliating against Armstrong, who had worked there for 23 years, and eventually fired her in 2016.
In an important ruling, a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, based in San Francisco, has ruled that “at will” employees like Armstrong have a limited property interest in their job and can’t be fired for a “prohibited reason” like reporting health and safety violations to NOSHA.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit based in Louisiana has issued a decision that promises to chill future whistleblower complaints of judicial corruption in state and federal courts.
A three-judge panel of the appeals court on Jan. 14 dismissed a lawsuit filed by a staff attorney who complained about alleged corruption by then Chief Justice Rogelio Valdez of the Texas Thirteenth District Court of Appeals and then was blackballed by Valdez in 2014 apparent in retaliation for his complaint.
The decision notes Bruce M. Anderson was required to swear an oath to report judicial misconduct when he was hired as a briefing attorney for a judge on the Texas state appellate court.
He complained in 2012 that Valdez doublebilled (at least ten times) travel expenses to both Valdez’ political campaign and the court’s local fund.
At the time, Anderson worked for Justice Rose Vela of the Thirteenth Court who, along with another Justice, Gregory Perkes, unsuccessfully sought an audit of a court fund controlled by Valdez. (Vela and Perkes also had a professional obligation to report Valdez’ alleged misconduct under the Texas Code on Judicial Conduct but they did not do so.)
As of about two weeks ago, Valdez is no longer on the Texas court. He chose not to run for reelection and his term expired on December 31, 2018.
After Vela’s term expired in 2013, both she and Anderson left the court. He provided additional information about Valdez’ alleged corruption to the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County District Attorney’s Office in his capacity as a private citizen.
In 2014, Justice Perkes offered Anderson a position as senior staff attorney. When Valdez found out about this, he told Perkes that hiring Anderson was a “bad idea” because, among other things, Anderson had a bad attitude. According to the 5th Circuit: “After Valdez told Perkes in May 2014 that he and the other justices did not approve of Anderson’s hiring, Perkes rescinded Anderson’s offer.”
The facts point to an open and shut case of retaliation against a whistleblower.