Attorney says it is important to protect rights of whistleblowers

Jim Waide says employees who report alleged illegal activities in the workplace are courageous for taking a stand

TUPELO, Miss. (WCBI) – A North Mississippi woman claiming she was wrongfully terminated after reporting illegal activity at Itawamba Community College reached an out-of-court settlement.

The case was an example of an employee, or whistleblower, coming forward to report alleged illegal activity at the workplace.

Tupelo Attorney Jim Waide represented the former ICC employee, who alerted the state auditor’s office about alleged fraud in the workforce development program. Tatiana Sherman claimed in her lawsuit she was fired after agents raided the school.

Waide said it is important for employees, in the public and private sectors, to know they have a legal path to report illegal activity at their workplace.

“That’s one thing I said. We had this huge welfare scandal in Jackson, if you had a worker willing to run the risk to report this, it could have been stopped in 2016. As it turns out, the auditor didn’t find out about it until 2020, because apparently there were no workers in the welfare department willing to come forward and say anything about it for fear of their jobs. That’s a likely reason,” Waide said.

Many of the whistleblower cases make their way through the legal system ending up in front of a jury. Waide said it takes a courageous person to report illegal activity, and he has some advice for potential whistleblowers.

“I would tell them first to see a lawyer. Make certain this is something that is actually illegal. Then if it is, they have that protection, but they always run that risk that the employer will come up with a reason to fire you, and it is not because you reported illegal activity,” he said.

Waide said there was no protection for workers in Mississippi until 1987 when Judge Glen Davidson called for steps to protect whistleblowers. The state supreme court agreed in 1993 saying it should be against public policy to fire an employee for reporting illegal activity.

Waide said it typically takes several years for whistleblower cases to go through the legal system.

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