As reported in The Pennsylvania Record, a recently filed complaint alleges that Lafayette College terminated an in-house health inspector just days after he took pictures of unsanitary conditions in the college kitchen. The employee was responsible, among other things, for monitoring and auditing the College’s food safety practices in accordance with FDA regulations. After a change in the food services management company, the College’s food safety practices became deficient, according to the plaintiff. The unsanitary conditions included “dirty coolers, uncovered, unlabeled and undated food, raw products stored above cooked products, onions stored on the floor, rotting fruit and more.” The employee photographed the kitchen and storage areas on September 1, 2013 and sent the pictures to his supervisors the same day. The College suspended his employment five days later, and then terminated him after another five days. The College alleges that it terminated the whistleblower because he shared the pictures with third parties, a charge that the employee denies.
This case is interesting in that the defendant employer does not seem to contest the fact that it fired the plaintiff because of his whistleblowing activities. Rather, the employer is arguing that the plaintiff blew the whistle to the wrong people. In our view, this is not much of a defense. Whistleblowers frequently report their employer’s wrongdoing to third parties; in fact, some employers have argued that “internal whistleblowing” does not trigger whistleblower protection at all. We will monitor this interesting case and report any new developments.