New York court orders reinstatement of whistleblower

A New York State appellate court has ordered the New York City Department of Transportation to reinstate whistleblower John Tipaldo. When Tipaldo reported that his superiors violated bidding rules, we was demoted from his position as Acting Assistant Commissioner for Planning. That was in 1996. In 2006, the trial court granted the City summary judgment on grounds that Tipaldo had not made a formal report of the bidding violations to the "appointing authority." The appellate court reversed in 2008 holding that Tipaldo’s report to the Department of Investigations was appropriate when the "appointing authority" was the person engaged in the violations. Tipaldo v. Lynn, 48 AD3d 361. The appellate court held that since there was no dispute about the retaliatory demotion, the case would be remanded only for a determination of damages and remedies. On the second appeal, the court held that Tipaldo was entitled to interest on his back pay, thereby increasing his award from $175,000 to $662,721. The appellate court awarded the interest even though the state’s statute did not make any explicit provision for interest.  The state statute has "the goal of remediating adverse employment actions which, if allowed, would undermine an important public policy, that is, encouraging public employees to expose fraud, waste and other squandering of the public fisc." Tipaldo had hired an expert to compute the interest and the City did not. The court also held that Tipaldo was entitled to reinstatement even though he had declined promotions offered after his demotion. The court said that his corroborated fear of retaliation made his decisions reasonable so that he could still receive reinstatement as part of the court’s order. It took Tipaldo 14 years, and two trips to the court of appeals to get justice.  This is an example of how public officials, when challenged by the integrity of a whistleblower, will waste unlimited public resources to delay justice. This might be a good time for New York’s legislature to consider improving its whistleblower law to provide for general and punitive damages, interest, expert fees, attorney fees and jury trials. The case is Tipaldo v. Lynn,  Thank you to the New York Public Personnel Law blog for alerting me to this decision.


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