If you work for the state report fraud at your peril

Ligon v. County of Goochland, Record No. 090250, ___ Va.___ (February 25, 2010). Ligon, the plaintiff, alleged that his former employer, Goochland County, unlawfully terminated him from his employment in the County’s Building and Grounds Department and that he was entitled to relief under the “whistleblower protection” provision in the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act (VFATA). Ligon alleged that he was terminated because he opposed certain fraudulent actions of his former supervisor or because Ligon initiated or participated in an investigation of those practices.

The VFATA provides that an employee who is retaliated against is entitled to compensatory damages, reinstatement of his employment, twice the amount of his back pay, and attorney fees and costs. The question before the Virginia Supreme Court was whether the Commonwealth or a political subdivision of the Commonwealth was immune from such a claim by reason of sovereign immunity. The Virginia Supreme Court noted that Ligon’s whistleblower claim was of a kind unknown at common law, and that the VFATA offered only general statutory language regarding “any employee.” Because the statute did not expressly waive the Commonwealth’s sovereign immunity, the Court held that sovereign immunity barred Ligon’s claim against his employer, the County.

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