4/3/2018Pennsylvania Supreme Court Fines Toll Road $3.2 Million
Whistleblower who exposed pay-to-play corruption at Pennsylvania toll road wins $3.2 million final judgment.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court last week ordered the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to pay a $3.2 million judgment to compensate an employee fired in 2008 for exposing pay-to-play corruption at the toll road enterprise. Ralph M. Bailets earned $95,000 a year as the manager responsible for preparing accurate financial reports for the turnpike until he was laid off in 2005.
Just before his firing, Bailets became upset that the politically connected firm Ciber Inc had landed a $53.8 million financial reporting system contract with the toll road even though the firm had put in the highest bid of all. When he brought this up to his supervisor, Bailets was told to keep his mouth shut if he wanted to keep his job.
Bailets was right that Ciber was not the right choice, as a number of performance issues surfaced. Bailets told accounting director Anthony Q. Maun that the turnpike's top management had to know that the problems were being caused by Ciber.
A jury noted that Bailets had top marks on his job evaluations until he started raising the red flag about Ciber. In 2016, jurors ruled against the toll road, finding Bailets was entitled to $1,649,316 in lost potential earnings. They also found that he was entitled to another $1.6 million in compensation for the humiliation and anguish caused by being sent into the unemployment line. The turnpike appealed, insisting it was not liable for any non-economic damages since the whistleblower law states the agency only has to pay "actual damages." The high court disagreed.
"Given the overriding purpose of the law and our determination a whistleblower must be put in no worse a position for having reported the wrongdoing, we cannot view the phrase 'actual damages' as excluding damages for such items of loss as humiliation, embarrassment and mental anguish because if no recovery for such items of loss are available, a whistleblower cannot be made whole," Justice Kevin Dougherty wrote for the unanimous court. "Similarly, in viewing the consequences of a particular interpretation, any construction which limits the phrase 'actual damages' to economic losses leaves whistleblowers uncompensated for any non-economic harms they might suffer as a result of their decision to expose the wrongdoing of their employers, harms which lie completely outside such items as loss of pay and benefits."
The high court also found no problem with the amount of non-economic damages awarded since the trial court is best equipped to judge such fact-based determinations.
A copy of the decision is available in a 200k PDF file at the source link below.