A federal jury in Portland, Oregon awarded a former whistleblower $1 million in a retaliation case against a now out-of-business telemarketing firm.
According to The Oregonian, Max Zweizig of New Jersey worked as the information technology director for the Oregon-based Northwest Direct Teleservices Inc. from 2001-2003. In 2004, he filed a lawsuit against Timothy Rote, the company’s owner and president, alleging he was fired in retaliation for alerting law enforcement authorities that the company was overbilling some clients.
Mr. Zweizig’s whistleblower complaint originally went to arbitration and he was awarded $75,375 for lost wages and damages, but the judgement hasn’t been paid despite years of further litigation to enforce it.
According to The Oregonian, court documents say Mr. Zweizig’s whistleblower complaint accused Mr. Rote of publishing slandering and harmful stories about him on a website and a public blog:
“On a website called ‘Sitting Duck Portland’ and later ‘The Explosion of Fake Whistleblowing,’ Rote wrote disparaging articles about Zweizig, publicly accusing him of misconduct, including illegally downloading pornography, and alleging his involvement in trademark and copyright violations,” the plaintiff and his lawyer alleged, according to The Oregonian. The complaint also accused Mr. Rote of spreading falsehoods about Mr. Zweizig, his fiancée, and his lawyers on social media, including facebook and Twitter.
“Rote was using this website to terrorize him with heinous allegations and a vile protracted smear campaign,” Mr. Zweizig’s lawyer told The Oregonian.
Mr. Rote represented himself in court and argued that these forms of whistleblower retaliation are protected by the First Amendment right to free speech. He also claimed the disparaging stories, which consisted altogether of about 100,000 words, were intended to call attention to the “risks of arbitration” and to “showcase the bias and lack of independence of the arbitrator,” among other things.
After a two-day trial, a federal jury in Portland found that Mr. Rote “aided and abetted” his telemarketing company in a campaign of whistleblower retaliation against Mr. Zweigzig. The jury awarded Mr. Zweigzig $1 million for the emotional distress Mr. Rote’s activities caused him.