Oregon public employers are subject to Oregon laws protecting employees, confirmed the Oregon Court of Appeals last week in Burley v. Clackamas County.
Galina Burley sued her employer, Clackamas County. She alleged it retaliated against her for reporting the county improperly used federal grant money. A jury agreed and awarded her $386,916. The county said, “Not so fast, we don’t think the law applies to us.”
One of the laws in question makes it unlawful for an “employer” to retaliate “for the reason that the employee has in good faith reported information that the employee believes is evidence of a violation of a state or federal law, rule or regulation.” ORS 659A.199. The employee can be wrong about whether the employer broke the law. The employee must only have a good faith belief the employer violated the law.
The county argued “employer” means private employer only, not public employer. It pointed to some words in the legislative history suggesting private employees needed this protection. But the court of appeals said, Read the dang statutes; they’re clear as can be.
ORS 659A.001 defines “Employer” as “any person” in the state who engages or uses the personal service of one or more employees. It then defines “person” to include “public body.” Game over. Pay the woman. And now, pay her the additional tens of thousands it cost for the appeal.
Whether one likes it or not, Oregon public employers must follow state laws that protect whistleblowers. According to Burley v. Clackamas County, they must follow ALL other employment laws under that whole chapter of the statutes (ORS 659A), which controls so many of the rights of employees.