Maine: Fired Worker’s Unreasonable ‘Whistleblowing’ Not Protected Activity

By Kirk Rafdal May 26, 2015

Because a legal secretary’s alleged whistleblowing was objectively unreasonable and incorrect, the Supreme Judicial Court of Maine affirmed the dismissal of her wrongful termination suit.

Patricia Galouch worked from 2006 to 2010 as an office associate and legal secretary for the Maine Bureau of Insurance (MBI). Galouch was ultimately terminated after she repeatedly, and against direct orders, continued to make contact with a court reporter who provided contractual services to the MBI. Galouch was convinced that the court reporter had somehow breached the terms of her contract, but Galouch’s supervisor instructed her to refer any such concerns to the MBI’s contract administrator. Galouch was specifically warned that managing contract employees was not part of her duties and that she should desist from any further communication with the court reporter.

Galouch, however, continued to pester the court reporter with allegations of breach of contract, and the court reporter ultimately resigned in frustration. During that same year, Galouch erroneously sent an insurance agent a letter notifying him that his license had been revoked. On other occasions, Galouch incorrectly entered sensitive information into a national database. As a result, Galouch was placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation of her workplace conduct. Galouch, meanwhile, filed several grievances through her union representative, including an allegation of a hostile work environment and harassment.

In the fall of 2010, the MBI terminated Galouch and concluded that she was “disorganized, messy, inattentive to details, and careless when entering information into databases.” The report went on to say that “she argued with vendors about their contracts, could not follow directions, argued with the bureau’s superintendent in public, and was careless about how documents were sent out. She verbally attacked her coworkers and supervisor when questioned about her work.”

Galouch filed suit against the MBI alleging violations of the Maine Human Rights Act (MHRA) and Whistleblowers’ Protection Act (WPA). On MBI’s motion, the trial court dismissed Galouch’s claims for lack of evidence.

On appeal before the Supreme Judicial Court of Maine, Galouch argued that she had been singled out for her whistleblowing actions regarding the court reporter’s alleged breach of contract.

The question before the court was whether Galouch had engaged in an activity that is protected by the WPA. As the court recited, the WPA “protects only complaints made in good faith, and only reports made with reasonable cause…” The court concluded that Galouch presented no evidence upon which a reasonable person would believe that the court reporter had committed an illegal act. Referring to the lower tribunal, the high court said, “The court properly concluded that Galouch’s reports about the court reporter’s conduct did not constitute protected activity.”

Because her self-styled whistleblowing was not protected under Maine’s WPA, the court held that Galouch’s termination was proper.

The high court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of Galouch’s case.

Galouch v. Dep't of Prof'l & Fin. Regulation, Me., No. Ken-14-347 (Apr. 30, 2015).

Kirk Rafdal, J.D., is a staff writer for SHRM.

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