The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has upheld a lower court’s 2016 ruling that the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission wrongfully terminated a whistleblower employee who accused a preferred IT contractor of waste and wrongdoing surrounding the implementation of a new data systems project.
Ralph Bailets alleged the Turnpike Commission fired him in November 2008 in retaliation for his complaints about Ciber Inc., a contractor whose officers had developed a corrupt and cozy relationship with Turnpike Commission leaders though “a steady flow of gifts and targeted campaign contributions,” PennLive reported.
In February 2014, Commonwealth Court Judge Rochelle Friedman rejected Ralph Bailets’ lawsuit against the Commission, its chief financial officer, and accounting director on the grounds that he failed to report wrongdoing internally as defined under the state’s whistleblower laws. The judge also found that Mr. Bailets’ complaint failed to say which specific law or statute the Commission allegedly violated.
The case was later revived on appeal to the state Supreme Court, resulting in a civil trial in the Commonwealth Court last summer.
Then last year, Judge Friedman ordered the Turnpike Commission to pay Mr. Bailets $2.48 million, including $1.6 million for lost wages plus interest earned during the appeal, all legal costs accrued during litigation of the case, and $1.6 million in non-economic damages.
According to PennLive, Judge “Friedman justified her damages decision on prior Supreme Court rulings that ‘employee reporters’ like Bailets provide a benefit to all citizens and it is imperative they ‘ultimately be put in no worse a position for having exposed the wrongdoing.’”
Last week the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s ruling except for the non-economic damages portion of the award, on which it agreed to hear oral arguments by the Turnpike Commission’s lawyers.
The defense maintains that the state law’s whistleblower protections do not provide for non-economic damages, which are awarded for public humiliation, anxiety, and similar harm.
Mr. Bailets’ lawyer told PennLive that the Supreme Court’s ruling “represents a complete vindication of Ralph Bailets’ position that he had been unlawfully terminated as a result of blowing the whistle on significant waste and wrongdoing at the Turnpike Commission.” He added that he looked forward to arguing “whether non-economic damages are awardable under the Pennsylvania Whistleblower law.”