Sukenik was the Manager of the Township of Elizabeth (“Manager”). He became involved in a dispute between the Township Board President and the Chief of Police. The President attempted to micromanage police affairs and disrupt the administration of the police department, eventually calling for a 4-year forensic audit of the department. On several occasions the President unilaterally directed the Manager to oppose the Chief’s decisions. Following an executive session of the Board, from which the Manager was excluded, the Manager drafted a letter to the Board reiterating his concerns about interfering with the police department and that the forensic audit would be a substantial waste of taxpayer funds. After initially authorizing the audit, the Board eventually abandoned it. Approximately two months later the Board terminated the Manager.

The Manager then instituted a complaint alleging a violation of the Whistleblower Act. The protections of the Whistleblower Act were applicable, the Manager asserted, because he was terminated after sending the letter to the Board about the President’s interference with the police department and that the forensic audit would be a substantial waste of taxpayer funds. The Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County granted the Board’s motion for summary judgment, finding the Manager had failed to establish a whistleblower claim because he did not make a “good faith report” of “wrongdoing” or “waste” under the Whistleblower Law. The Manager appealed.

The Commonwealth Court affirmed the lower court’s decision. It found that the President’s unilateral interference with the police department did not constitute “wrongdoing” under the Act. Further, the Manager’s letter to the Board was not a goof faith report of wrongdoing because it did not report the complained of conduct. It merely referred to “actions” he was asked to take and his belief that they violated various laws. Finally, the court concluded that the Manager’s claim that the audit would have constituted waste was insufficient to qualify as “waste” under the Act. A report of hypothetical loss was insufficient to trigger the Whistleblower Law’s protection.

Click here to read: Sukenik v. Twp. of Elizabeth, 505 C.D. 2015 (Pa. Cmmw. Ct. Jan. 5, 2016).

Edited by:

Sivertsen_BLOG     Zachary A. Sivertsen, Esq.