It is against the law in New York for an employer to fire you because you disclose evidence that the employer is engaged in illegal activity. This is a form of wrongful termination. If you are a “whistleblower” exposing any violation of the law that “creates and presents a substantial and specific danger to the public health or safety,” you are protected under New York Labor Law from employer retaliation.
Manhattan Court Allows Whistleblower Case Against School to Proceed
While whistleblower cases are often associated with big stories like financial fraud or environmental pollution, there are in fact many kinds of regulatory violations that pose a risk to public safety. After all, the state does not regulate something unless it believe it is necessary and in the public interest.
Consider an ongoing wrongful termination case from Manhattan. The plaintiff worked as a clinical social worker for a “publicly-funded private school that serves students with disabilities,” according to court records. In 2015, the school's board of directors fired the school's executive director. The board chairperson then assumed the role of executive director herself.
The plaintiff objected to the chairperson's appointment because he “did not possess the legally required qualifications” for the executive director' position. The New York State Commissioner of Education requires all “supervisory personnel” working in schools to obtain particular certifications, which reflect the completion of certain educational and experience requirements. The chairperson, by the school's own admission, did not possess these certifications.
Nevertheless, the board allegedly ignored the plaintiff's complaints. Eventually, the plaintiff brought his concerns directly to the Department of Education. A week later, the plaintiff said he was fired in retaliation. He sued the school and the chairperson for wrongful termination.
The defendants moved to dismiss the case on the grounds that the plaintiff could not show there was any “substantial and specific danger to public health or safety” as a result of the chairperson's lacking the legal qualification to be executive director. The trial judge disagreed and denied the motion to dismiss.
Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Arlene P. Bluth said in a written opinion that the plaintiff has in fact alleged a “a large-scale threat [with] many potential victims, including the students and staff” of the school due to its decision to employ a legally unqualified administrator. Bluth noted the state's certification requirements were not “aspirational” or optional. The rules are designed to “ensure that students have a safe environment in which to learn,” which is “especially critical” at a school that handles students with disabilities. Indeed, Bluth said the mere “threat” of harm was sufficient to justify the plaintiff's actions.
Have You Been the Victim of Wrongful Termination?
You should never be put in a position in which you have to choose between keeping your job and following the law. If you are aware of illegal activity that threatens the public, but you fear retaliation from your bosses, you should engage an experienced New York employment law attorney who can inform you of your rights under the law. Contact the Law Offices of Mahir S. Nisar in New York City or Long Island to speak with an attorney today.