In Winslow v. Aroostook County and Northern Maine Development Commission, Inc. (NMDC), the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiff’s whistleblower case because it found that she was not a “whistleblower” under the terms of Maine’s Whistleblower Protection Act (MWPA). The First Circuit found that the plaintiff, while working for Aroostook County, had told County officials that the County was engaged in illegal activity. The plaintiff argued that NMDC refused to hire her when it took over the program that she directed because she had reported Aroostook County’s illegal activity. The First Circuit held that, even if that was the reason why NMDC refused to hire her, its decision would not have violated the MWPA. This is because, even though she reported illegal activity, the First Circuit found that she did so as part of her job responsibilities.
This case shows that how an employee blows the whistle on his employer’s illegal activity is sometimes very important. The MWPA prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee who reports unlawful activity to it or to a public body. If you’re an employee whose job responsibilities include telling your employer when it has violated the law, and you are concerned that you’re going to be fired for reporting a violation of the law, you may consider reporting that illegal activity to a public body, like a government agency. To ensure that you’ll be protected under the MWPA, however, you must give your employer a reasonable opportunity to correct the illegal activity before you report it to a public body unless you have specific reason to believe that your employer won’t correct the illegal activity. These can be difficult decisions. So, to determine what course you should take, you should contact an experienced employment lawyer for advice.