BATON ROUGE - While some may think that a recent Louisiana whistleblower should have taken his case to trial, his settlement could still have a positive impact.
"When any suit like this settles favorably, it helps others who are considering telling the truth despite the cost," Bill Quigley, professor of law at Loyola University New Orleans and director of the Loyola Law Clinic, told the Louisiana Record.
Bruce Ellis, a former state worker with the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said he was fired by the agency in 2012 after complaining about wasteful activity. Among his allegations were that large amounts of ice and other supplies were wasted during and after Hurricane Isaac, including $2.5 million in ice acquired for the storm that was allowed to melt at a warehouse, with videos apparently showing state workers playing on the ice as it melted.
Ellis sued the agency under "whistleblower" laws that prevent a worker from being terminated for reporting illegal activity. The suit was settled out of court in March, just a month before the trial was set to begin. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.
Quigley said that while the settlement is a literal cost to the state government, in the end the result of the case is positive.
"Whistleblower suits are a terrific pain in the you-know-what for governments and corporations, but they play a very important role for the public," he said. The tendency to cover up mistakes hurts all our institutions. It is clearly in the public interest for mistakes to be admitted, examined and learned from. While painful in the short run for the government, maybe people in the future will think twice about concealing mistakes."
Quigley also praised Ellis' courage in reporting the illegal activities, knowing that losing his job was a real possibility.
"It takes tremendous courage to be a whistleblower," he said. "Most whistleblowers also sacrifice a lot to tell the truth. So when any suit like this settles favorably, it helps others who are considering telling the truth despite the cost."