New Whistleblower Protection Given to Public Employees by Supreme Court

Saturday, June 21, 2014
Edward Lane (photo: Mary Orndorff Troyan, Montgomery Advertiser)

Government whistleblowers will now have greater legal protections following a ruling Thursday by the U.S. Supreme Court.


In a 9-0 decision, the court said public employees are shielded from retaliation after they testify in court about wrongdoing at their places of employment.


The justices agreed that government workers who are subpoenaed to testify enjoy the same First Amendment rights as other citizens. They also don’t have to choose between “the obligation to testify truthfully and the desire to avoid retaliation and keep their jobs,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote for the court. “Speech by citizens on matters of public concern lies at the heart of the 1st Amendment,” Sotomayor added. “This remains true when speech concerns information related to or learned through public employment.”

Although existing laws and regulations protect whistleblowers, previous rulings had established that public employees possess free-speech rights only when they are acting as citizens and not when testifying about actions at work.


The new ruling, which did away with the latter restriction, arose from the case of Edward Lane, an Alabama community college official who claimed he was fired for exposing a state lawmaker being paid without working.


His whistleblower lawsuit was thrown out of court twice, once at the trial level and the second time by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. But the Supreme Court agreed to hear his petition, and in ruling in Lane’s favor, backed away slightly from a 2006 decision that had limited public employees’ free-speech rights.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Supreme Court Rules Public Employees Are Protected from Retaliation for Testimony (by Robert Barnes, Washington Post)

Supreme Court Gives Public Workers 1st Amendment Shield (by David Savage, Los Angeles Times)

High Court: Whistleblowers’ Testimony Is Protected (by Sam Hanannel, Associated Press)

Obama Whistleblower Program Requires Whistleblowers to Register to be Protected (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Terrorists, Spies, Whistleblowers Treated the Same by Obama Administration (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Obama Anti-Whistleblower Program Requires Federal Employees to Report Suspicions of other Employees or Risk Punishment (Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)


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