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Legislation Proposed To Give Whistleblowers The Right To Sue

Supporters of a measure that would broaden options for whistle blowers told the legislature’s labor committee Friday that the state is not doing enough to protect employees that allege an employer has retaliated against them. The measure would allow an employee to bring a private lawsuit.

Under current law, a whistleblower is supposed to be protected from retaliation by the labor department or the attorney general. But workers say that rarely happens because both agencies do not have the staff to investigate the charges and take the employer to court. Carrie Walsh of Topsham says employers have devised a Catch-22 to prevent whistleblowers from filing a lawsuit against them on their own.

"I was told because I signed this arbitration agreement, I could not sue. I was also told that because it was over a year since I had been fired, I could not use arbitration. So where does this leave me?" Walsh says.

The legislation would allow a whistleblower to hire their own attorneys to file a lawsuit that would move forward only if the attorney general or the agency took legal action against the employer. That brought opposition to the bill from Attorney General Aaron Frye who said allowing such a private action would infringe on his ability to decide which cases his office would pursue with its limited resources. Several business groups filed written testimony opposing the bill.

"This would be the first time that the role, for at least for the attorney general’s office, for this bill, that the job of the attorney general to represent the state is being put in a private right," Frye says. "So that is really my concern.”

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.