Erin Bragovich works in the permitting department of Shortcut Land Development Company (“Shortcut”). In a phone call, Erin tells her supervisor that she believes that Shortcut is violating a local zoning ordinance enacted by Sunshine City. Immediately after telling her manager about the suspected zoning violation, Erin files a sworn complaint with the Sunshine City Zoning Department reporting the violation. Shortcut fires Erin after it learns about her complaint.
Which of the following statements is correct?
A. Erin has a claim for whistleblower protection if she had a good faith belief that Shortcut was violating a zoning ordinance, even if there was no actual violation.
B. Erin has a claim for whistleblower protection because her complaint to the City’s Zoning Department represents a valid exercise of her First Amendment Right to Free Speech.
C. Erin does not have a claim for whistleblower protection because she did not disclose the violation to her supervisor in writing, nor did she give Shortcut a reasonable opportunity to correct the violation before she made the report to the Zoning Department.
D. Erin does not have a claim for whistleblower protection because the subject of her disclosure was the violation of a local ordinance, not a violation of state or federal law.
This scenario involves the application and interpretation of Florida Statute ¶ 448.101 (Florida’s Private Sector Whistleblower Act). Among other things, the Whistleblower Act offers limited protection to an employee who suffers a retaliatory employment action because he or she disclosed or threatened to disclose to an appropriate governmental agency the employer’s violation of a law, rule or regulation.
The correct answer is “C.” In order for Erin to claim retaliatory discharge based on her disclosure, she must have first informed Shortcut of the violation in writing and have given Shortcut a reasonable opportunity to correct the violation.
A is incorrect because in order for Erin to have protection under the Whistleblower Act, her disclosure must involve an actual violation of a law, rule or regulation, not just a good faith belief that there was a violation.
B is incorrect because Erin has no constitutional right to free speech in the workplace as a private sector employer.
D is incorrect because Florida’s Private Sector Whistleblower Act protects employees from retaliation for disclosing violation of any law, rule or regulation applicable to that employer. Therefore, the protection would extend to the disclosure of a violation of a City ordinance.
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