Local government whistleblowers cannot bank on being protected unless they alert their local bosses of their allegations, the 1st District Court of Appeal ruled Wednesday.
In a unanimous ruling, the appellate court said former Panama City Housing Authority maintenance man Kenneth Quintini could not be protected under state whistleblower protections after making charges to federal officials before he was laid off in 2008.
Citing a 1992 state law, the court ruled lawmakers explicitly separated local government employees from their state and federal counterparts, who are protected from recriminations if they make charges of wrongdoing to the appropriate state or federal authorities.
Local government employees, in contrast, must first direct their comments to the local chief executive officer or other appropriate local government official to protect themselves from being fired in response to their charges, the court ruled.
"After the 1992 and 1993 amendments, a disclosure concerning a state agency is protected if disclosed to a state or federal government entity having authority to investigate or correct the violation, but a disclosure of a local government entity is protected only if it is reported to the entitys chief executive officer ... or other appropriate local official," the court wrote.
In late-April 2008, Quintini submitted a written complaint to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in which he alleged he was not being paid at the same rate as other maintenance workers at the housing authority. He was laid off in November 2008.
Quintini argued that he was laid off because of the HUD complaint and requested protection under the whistleblowers act.
In an eight=page ruling the appellate court disagreed, saying lawmakers' intent was unambiguous and the law clearly written.