Local government whistle-blowers cannot bank on being protected unless they alert their local bosses of their allegations, the First District Court of Appeal ruled Wednesday.
In a unanimous ruling, the appellate court said former Panama City Housing Authority maintenance man Kenneth Quintini could not be protected under state whistle-blower protections after making charges to federal officials before he was laid off in 2008.
Citing a 1992 state law, the court ruled lawmakers explicitly separated local government employees from their state and federal counterparts, who are protected from recriminations if they make charges of wrongdoing to the appropriate state or federal authorities.
Local government employees, in contrast, must first direct their comments to the local chief executive officer or other appropriate local government official to protect themselves from being fired in response to their charges, the court ruled.
“After the 1992 and 1993 amendments, a disclosure concerning a state agency is protected if disclosed to a state or federal government entity having authority to investigate or correct the violation, but a disclosure of a local government entity is protected only if it is reported to the entity’s chief executive officer … or other appropriate local official,” the court wrote.
In April 2008, Quintini submitted a written complaint to the Department of Housing and Urban Development in which he alleged he was not being paid at the same rate as other maintenance workers at the housing authority. He was laid off in November 2008.
Quintini argued he was laid off because of the HUD complaint and requested protection under state law.
In an eight-page ruling the appellate court disagreed, saying lawmakers’ intent was unambiguous and the law clearly written.
“The statute explicitly states that the disclosure must be made to the chief executive officer or other appropriate local official,” Judge T. Kent Wetherell II wrote for the unanimous panel. “This clear mandate leaves no room for interpretation.”
Judges Nikki Clark and Scott Makar concurred.
The panel affirmed summary judgment in favor of the authority.
In other appellate action, the Florida Supreme Court has extended and staggered the deadlines requiring documents in appellate cases to be filed electronically.
Originally scheduled to require mandatory e-filing as early as Saturday, the state’s highest court on Wednesday postponed until Feb. 27 the requirement that all documents filed in the state’s high court be electronically filed.
The Supreme Court also delayed a similar requirement for the state’s five district courts of appeal. Originally required to accept electronic documents beginning April 1, the requirement will be phased in across the circuits next year.
Electronic filing rules will be required in the Second DCA starting July 22, the Third DCA starting Sept. 27, the Fourth DCA starting Oct. 31, the Fifth DCA starting Nov. 27 and the First DCA starting Dec. 27.
In the meantime, the high court encourages clerks of court and attorneys to file electronically if the option exists.