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Michigan Supreme Court lets whistleblower case go forward

This month, the Michigan Supreme Court declined to examine a Michigan Court of Appeals opinion that permitted a case under the state's whistleblower laws to proceed. The case appears to have expanded what it means to "report" under the Michigan Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA). It therefore has the potential for having an impact on employees in the state, as well as practitioners of employment law.

The Supreme Court's 3-2 denial of review in McNeill-Marks v. MidMichigan Medical Center - Gratiot was handed down on June 15 in a brief order. Justice Zahra, on the other hand, wrote a lengthy and detailed dissent as to why the court should have granted review in the matter. Chief Justice Markman joined in the dissent, while Justices Wilder and Clement did not participate in the decision.

The court's denial of review means that the Court of Appeals decision is controlling. The plaintiff in the case was fired from her position as a clinical manager by the defendant for allegedly violating hospital privacy policies. The violation supposedly occurred after the plaintiff encountered a patient at the hospital against whom she had a personal protection order. The plaintiff informed her supervisor, who was aware of the PPO, that the person was at the hospital. The plaintiff then called her lawyer to inform him that the person against whom she had the PPO had come to her workplace.

The person then lodged a complaint with the hospital claiming her medical privacy rights were violated. The plaintiff was fired and filed a suit under the WPA. The case was summarily dismissed by the trial court, but the appeals court reversed the dismissal. The WPA protects employees who report a violation of the law to a "public body." In reversing, the court held that plaintiff calling her lawyer to report a violation of the PPO was reporting a violation to a public body. The court reasoned that because attorneys are officers of the court, and the judiciary is a public body, reporting a violation of law to a lawyer is reporting to a "public body" within the meaning of the WPA.

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