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D.C. whistleblower wins $1.7 million - and vindication - for wrongful demotion and termination

State and federal laws protect those who report wrongdoing

After a two-week trial, a federal jury has sided with a former D.C. city official who sued the District for whistleblower retaliation. Eric W. Payne was awarded $1.7 million in damages for wrongful demotion and damage to his reputation for standing up to corruption and influence in city contracting.

Payne expressed gratitude that his whistleblower actions and good name were vindicated, although justice took six years. His lawyer said the verdict gives hope to other government workers who fear backlash for reporting fraud, collusion or other illegal activity.

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Whistleblower suffered retaliation: "My name was mud."

Payne, a former senior contracting official in D.C., filed the federal lawsuit against the District of Columbia in 2010, following his demotion and then termination in 2009 for reporting shenanigans relating to a $228 million lottery contract. In a nutshell, Payne claimed he was pressured to cancel a winning bid so that the contract could be awarded to a different provider that some city officials preferred.

Payne approached two different investigative agencies about the undue influence of two city council members in the lottery contracting. He said he was then punished by his superior, the District's chief financial officer. After losing his job, Payne contends he was so effectively blackballed in Washington that he was forced to take a position overseas with the Air Force for three years.

He has returned to Northern Virginia, hoping to resurrect his career in the aftermath of his ordeal. "The biggest victory is I have my name again, my integrity," Payne told the Washington Post. "I can start my life over again, and my family no longer has to suffer."

Not all whistleblowing disclosures are protected

The federal jury found that 10 of the disclosures Payne made to D.C. investigators were protected under the District's whistleblower law. The jury concluded that seven other disclosures were not appropriate or protected.

It is important to contact legal counsel before coming forward with allegations. Disclosures that are not covered under state or federal whistleblower laws may offer no shield from retaliation or termination. Federal employees must follow specific protocols through the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) and/or the Office of Special Counsel (OSC). An improperly filed complaint could be dismissed and, if it gets back to your employer, could result in harassment, demotion, suspension or other adverse employment actions. Talk to a lawyer who practices in this arena.

Source: Washington Post article

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