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Appeals court rejects man's claim of wrongful discharge

On June 7, a Texas appellate court issued a grant of summary judgment regarding a man who had made a whistleblower complaint regarding the safety of a vessel. The man told investigators he had warned his employer that the vessel was unsafe with its surveying equipment, and an accident that occurred afterward left one crew member dead and six more injured. When the man was fired two years later, he alleged it was whistleblower retaliation.

Shortly after the accident, the employee received a low performance review. He went on disability twice, and when he returned from his second disability leave, he was fired.

The man had initially filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, but it was dismissed. He then filed a lawsuit that alleged wrongful termination. His employer received a summary judgment, but the man went on to appeal. The opinion of the appeals court said that the maritime whistleblower protections provided by Congress did not apply to the man and his situation.

Employers may want to consult with an attorney regarding how to handle employees who have been whistleblowers, have taken leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act or might be protected in some other way from termination. It is important for an employer to document any disciplinary and other issues with an employee so that it does not appear that he or she was fired as an act of retaliation or discrimination. The employer may also want to take the timing of actions against the employee into account.

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