In 2012, a former cardiac surgery physician's assistant at Mercy General Hospital in Sacramento named Ani Chopourian was awarded an incredible sum of $168 million in her harassment suit against the hospital. At the time, this was believed to be the most substantial amount of damages ever awarded to a single plaintiff in a case of workplace harassment in the United States. This case of whistleblower harassment helped set a legal precedent for others who had been harassed after reporting unethical or illegal conduct at their own workplace, showing them that there are legal avenues through which they can seek compensation for their mistreatment.
Nothing came of the complaints until she persisted
Nothing came of Chopourian's official complaints to human resources. Her final complaint was filed on the last day of July in 2008. A week later, she was fired from her position in cardiac surgery. The hospital claimed that her termination was the result of missing a shift at work and sleeping on the job. While she was initially allowed to retain her privileges as a physician assistant and was able take a job in another department, in a matter of months, she lost both her privileges and her new position as well.
While we already know these many years after the fact that Ani Chopourian's situation resolved in her favor - she was awarded $3.5 million for her lost wages and benefits, $39 million for mental anguish, and $125 million in punitive damages - there are plenty of individuals all over the country who find themselves in very similar positions every day.
When someone has witnessed unethical, illegal or otherwise incorrect activity or behavior within their workplace or organization and they make their experience or observation known by reporting or exposing it, this is what's known as whistleblowing. In spite of laws that have been put in place specifically to protect the rights of whistleblowers, it's unfortunately not unusual for those individuals to be mistreated by their employer or other employees as a kind of retaliation for making their report. This often comes in the form of:
● Intimidation or harassment, including threats
● Demotions, a reduction in pay or hours, and denial of overtime or promotion possibilities
● Being denied their rightful benefits
● Being fired or laid off
These are only a few examples of the kind of retaliation that whistleblowers can face, and this mistreatment can be devastating. Loss of employment means lost wages and benefits. In some cases, the manner in which someone is fired or demoted may make it difficult to impossible to seek other, comparable employment.
Fortunately, thanks to protective and incentivizing laws that have been put in place over the last decade, whistleblowers who have faced this type of harassment are seeing much more success and higher returns in lawsuits brought against their former employers. Victims of whistleblower harassment can seek punitive damages, compensatory damages for things like emotional distress, lost wages, benefits and more, with substantial amounts sometimes reaching into the millions awarded if the suit is ruled in their favor.
If you have been the victim of whistleblower harassment at your own place of employment, we want to help you. Contact our offices today to speak to one of our experienced employment attorneys.