Recently, I have taken a case on behalf of a whistle-blower who found herself in a difficult circumstance similar to that of the legendary football coach. My client choose to call the police and soon found herself without a job. I’ve been thinking about the more famous and less famous cases.
Being an avid reader and huge sports fan, I often enjoy the ability of sportswriter Rick Telander to put things in perspective. Here is some of what he had to say:
“As the heinous and surreal details of former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky’s alleged destruction of innocent souls are brought to light, we can only start looking up the chain of command and wonder how this could happen….” (Rick Telander, Chicago Sun Times, Sunday November 13, 2011).
Mr. Telander’s column goes on to discuss the power of institutions, namely universities and the NCAA. However, as I primarily write about litigation in this blog, I am more concerned about the power of the institutions of corporation and State. Our Land of Lincoln and many other states have recently been focused on becoming more “business friendly.” This has been described by some as “profits over people.” Creating a strong climate for businesses becomes the ultimate “good”, and individuals who file suit against businesses are reviled and vilified. In this type of climate, people sometimes hesitate to do the right thing. Telander goes on to remind us of the sorry truth:
“Whistle-blowers don’t often win. They are stigmatized, marginalized, fired, obliterated….”
Fortunately, Illinois and federal law contain strong protections for whistle-blowers. Under the Illinois Whistle-Blower Statute (740 ILCS 174/1, et seq.), an employee may not adopt or enforce a rule or policy prohibiting employees from reporting illegal conduct to law enforcement, and may not retaliate against an employee that does so. An employer may be liable for damages, including reinstatement with seniority status restored, back pay with interest, and compensation for attorney fees and litigation costs.
If you are disgusted by the failure to act, don’t “shoot the messenger” when someone does speak up. A person faced with knowledge of a serious crime committed by a co-worker needs to know that they can do the right thing and call the police with the full protection of the law behind them.
For more information about this subject or the author, Chicago litigation attorney Steven A. Sigmond, call (312) 258-8188 or return to our website at www.siglaw.com.