D.C. Superior Court Judge Anita Josey-Herring ruled this week that a protection offered under the federal Whistleblower Protection Act for certain disclosures made on behalf of another person could be extended to the city’s version of the statute.
In the underlying case, a D.C. police officer is accusing (PDF) his superiors of unlawfully targeting him for disciplinary action after the police union submitted a letter that was critical of the department on his behalf.
Josey-Herring, in Download Order denying MSJdenying the city’s motion for summary judgment on Tuesday, ruled in a footnote that because protected disclosures can be made on behalf of another person under the federal statute, the same should go for the D.C. Whistleblower Protection Act.
“Because the Court has been unable to locate, and the parties have not provided, any District of Columbia Court of Appeals or other precedent, the interpretation…is persuasive to this Court, given the substantial similarity of the D.C. WPA and the federal WPA,” the judge wrote.
Adams had submitted information to the Fraternal Order of Police that was critical of the police department’s handling of missing children cases. When the union sent a letter about the issue to city officials, Adams claims the department launched an audit of his division as an excuse to investigate his personal performance.
The audit concluded that Adams had failed to properly handle cases and follow procedures. The city claims that Adams was disciplined solely because of these findings and because he gave false statements at the time about his performance.
Josey-Herring denied the motion for summary judgment on Tuesday, finding that Adams had raised sufficient claims to be decided at trial as to whether the disciplinary action was a pretext for retaliation.
Adams’ attorney, Anthony Conti of Baltimore’s Conti Fenn & Lawrence, noted that the city passed an amended version of the whistleblower law last year that he believes extends the protected disclosures to include organizational complaints like the one in this case. However, he said Josey-Herring's ruling is still significant because not everyone may see the new law going as far as he does.
"We are testing the outer boundaries of what is a protected disclosure. It's an important issue because the Whistleblower Protection Act, in order for it to have any meaning, has to protect individuals in this scenario."
Representatives for the Metropolitan Police Department and attorney general's office declined to comment on the pending litigation.