MSC holds that a plaintiff’s motivation is not relevant to whether plaintiff engaged in protected activity under the Whistleblowers’ Protection Act
The plaintiff was employed by the city of Burton as the chief of police from 2002 until 2007, when the mayor of Burton did not reappoint him. Plaintiff brought a retaliation claim against the city and the mayor in his individual capacity under the Whistleblowers’ Protection Act (WPA), which protects an employee against an employer’s retaliatory employment actions, when the employee engaged in protected activity. Plaintiff claimed that the mayor’s decision not to reappoint him was because Plaintiff made repeated complaints that the refusal to pay his previously accumulated unused sick and personal leave time would violate a city ordinance. After the jury returned a verdict in favor of plaintiff, the trial court denied the defendants’ motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV). The Michigan Supreme Court, in Whitman v. City of Burton, determined that the Court of Appeals erred when it reversed the trial court’s denial of defendants’ motion for JNOV. The Court of Appeals, in a split published opinion, held that as a matter of law, plaintiff’s claim was not actionable under the WPA because he did not act with a desire to inform the public on matters of public concern, but instead acted to advance his own financial interests. The Michigan Supreme Court interpreted the plain language of the WPA, MCL 15.362 in particular, and concluded that nothing in the statutory language addresses an employee’s motivation, nor does it mandate that an employee’s primary motivation be a desire to inform the public of matters of public concern. Further, the Michigan Supreme Court held that to the extent its decision in Shallal v. Catholic Social Servs of Wayne Co, 455 Mich 604; 566 N.W.2d 571 (1997) has been interpreted to mandate specific motive requirements, it is disavowed. The Michigan Supreme Court remanded the case to the Court of Appeals for consideration of all remaining issues, including whether the causation element of MCL 15.362 has been met.