The Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a big decision for whistleblowers in Bailets v. Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, 2018 WL 1516785 (Pa. 2018). The Court ruled that noneconomic damages are compensable under Pennsylvania’s whistleblower law.
Ralph Bailets was a former Manager of Financial Systems and Reporting with the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. During his tenure, he became concerned about the government contractor Ciber Inc., which was politically-connected to leaders of the Commission. When competing for one infrastructure project, Ciber offered the most expensive bid, yet still was chosen for the contract. As Ciber struggled to perform the contract, Bailets took the issue to his supervisor. Bailet’s supervisor initially warned him that Ciber had friends in high places, and later advised colleagues that Bailet “should be kept on a short lease.” He was fired shortly thereafter.
At trial, Bailet was awarded $1.6 million in economic damages and $1.6 million in noneconomic damages. The Commission eventually appealed the reward to the Supreme Court, on the issues of whether noneconomic damages were permissible under Pennsylvania’s whistleblower law and whether $1.6 million in noneconomic damages was excessive.
Given that a stated purpose of Pennsylvania’s whistleblower statute was that whistleblowers be made whole for the losses they have suffered, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision—that the whistleblower should be eligible to receive noneconomic damages—only makes sense. The emotional costs of whistleblowing are significant. For a whistleblower to be made whole, as required by Pennsylvania law, such damages must be compensable.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court should be credited for reading its whistleblower statute appropriately and the Pennsylvania legislature likewise deserves credit for putting in place a strong whistleblower law. Other states without such provisions should follow suit.