In Maryland, the D.C. area and throughout the U.S., employers may not fire workers in retaliation for taking advantage of state or federal laws, or for protecting their rights in the workplace. This means an employer cannot fire an employee who is cooperating with an investigation by licensed authorities or one who supports a co-worker's sexual harassment complaint or has reported illegal practices of the company.
However, employers do sometimes fire workers in retaliation for being involved in circumstances similar to those listed above. Employers will generally blame the termination on poor job performance, of course. This is exactly what one policeman in D.C. is saying the police department did to him, and he has now filed a whistleblower lawsuit.
The D.C. police commander was demoted after he told the D.C. Council that police escorts for celebrities are a common practice for the department. The officer talked to the council after the department got heat when actor Charlie Sheen received a highly publicized police escort last year.
Sheen's police escort got media attention after the actor posted about it on Twitter. At the time, D.C.'s police chief said that the escort broke police protocol because of the use of emergency lights and the lack of department approval, among other things.
Two months later, the police captain told the council that escorts for celebrities were routine and that there was no policy against them. And in fact an inspector general's report later found the officers who provided the escort broke no rules and faulted the department for failing to establish guidelines about such escorts.
The captain was later demoted two ranks from commander to captain and transferred out of the special operations division that he led.
While he maintains he was demoted in retaliation for what he told the council, the department blames the demotion on poor job performance.
The police captain's attorney has said that no issues were raised about the policeman's performance until after he talked to the D.C. Council.
This is often the case when someone files a wrongful termination or retaliation claim; the employer blames performance, but the worker had a spotless record until the whistleblower act took place. In these circumstances, experienced employment law attorneys are often able to successfully stand up for the rights of employees.
In this case, the policeman is seeking at least $6 million in damages as well as to be reinstated to commander within the special operations division.
Source: Associated Press, "Demoted Policeman Sues Over Sheen Escort in DC," Eric Tucker, Aug. 8, 2012