To the Editor:
Maine’s highest court has made the law more friendly to workers who blow the whistle on their employers.
On Nov. 10, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court overturned an Androscoggin County Superior Court ruling that Cumberland County Sheriff’s Detective Gerard Brady did not have enough evidence to get his whistleblower case in front of a jury. Brady had filed a lawsuit in 2013 alleging that the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department retaliated against him after he complained about a corrections officer’s assault on a jail inmate in 2010.
In addition to helping Brady further his case, the law court’s ruling has far-reaching implications for all cases filed under Maine’s Whistleblower Protection Act. This is because the law court directed that Maine’s state courts will no longer follow what is known as the McDonnell Douglas test when analyzing whether whistleblower claims should get to a jury.
That test arose out of a 1973 U.S. Supreme Court case and was intended to be favorable to victims of employment discrimination. Over the past four decades, the McDonnell Douglas test has been adopted by most, if not all, courts in the U.S. in both discrimination and whistleblower cases.
Brady’s attorneys argued to the law court that McDonnell Douglas is a rigid and cumbersome technical rule, and that its practical effect has often been to wrongfully deprive whistleblower plaintiffs like Brady of their day in court. The law court agreed and held that Maine’s state courts will no longer apply the McDonnell Douglas test when deciding whether whistleblower cases are worthy of trial, but rather the standard will be whether a reasonable juror could find in favor of the plaintiff.
Detective Brady will now be able to have his day in court. But it is especially gratifying that the law court’s decision will pave the way for many more whistleblower employees to get their cases into court and in front of a jury.
Jonathan M. Goodman