The Pennsylvania Supreme Court unanimously ruled Tuesday that the state’s whistleblower law allows for noneconomic damages to be classified as “actual damages,” thereby increasing the amount successful whistleblowers can receive under the law.
Former Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission employee Ralph Bailets was fired in 2008 after inquiring about suspicious business dealings between the agency and a contractor. Bailets sued the agency, and was awarded $3.2 million in damages – $1.6 million in the form of noneconomic damages for embarrassment and humiliation that he endured as a result of his termination.
Upon appeal, the State Supreme Court ruled that the term “actual damages” includes noneconomic damages. It further rejected the defendant’s claim that the award of $1.6 million in noneconomic damages was excessive and/or unsupported by the evidence.
As the Court opined, “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.”
This decision is a significant victory for whistleblowers in Pennsylvania and paves the way for more favorable outcomes in the future.
Read Matthew LaGarde's analysis of the decision here.