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Penn State ruling a win for whistleblowing

A judge ruled last week that attorneys for former Penn State assistant football coach, Mike McQueary, would be awarded $1.7 million for legal fees incurred from disputing treatment he received after providing information that led to the arrest of Jerry Sandusky – the former Penn State football assistant football coach who was found guilty of multiple child molestation charges in 2012.

McQueary was awarded over $7 million in October for defamation and misrepresentation claims and close to $5 million in November. Additionally, the judge’s order gave McQueary $15,000 for a bowl game bonus that he would have received had he not been wrongfully suspended in the wake of Sandusky’s arrest.

McQueary provided vital testimony in the trial against Sandusky when he reported to have seen an act of child molestation happening in a facility locker room in 2001. He reported the action to then head coach, Joe Paterno, who in turn reported the act to the athletic director of Penn State, but no follow-up action was taken with authorities or police.

McQueary was placed on paid leave following Sandusky’s arrest in 2011 and was barred from participating in all athletics at Penn State and was then terminated when his contract expired in 2012. According to the Associated Press, McQueary has been unable to find work in athletics since these occurrences.

Many have criticized McQueary’s failure to report the incident to police and his silence in the years following where no action was taken against Sandusky and he continued to be allowed near children, although he was found to be legally cleared of responsibility since he reported the incident to his immediate supervisor (Paterno).

The ruling, although stemming from unparalleled acts of brutality and horridness, can be seen as a hopefully positive one for the rights and futures of potential whistleblowers – those who alert authorities of wrongdoing by others.

The judge wrote, according to AP, that “it would not be reasonable to expect whistleblowers to put their jobs and paychecks at risk in reporting suspected wrongdoing, as well as to fund their own legal representation.”

Indeed this is one of the most important elements of protecting whistleblowers. A whistleblower should not only be protected from retaliatory action by their employer, but they should also not be on the hook to pay for the lawyers and time off from work to appear in countless trial hearings that is necessary in big cases such, as this one was.

In the case of the Sandusky scandal, McQueary has faced a great deal of criticism and has, since the events all unfolded, lost his job and separated from his wife. It is reasonable to question what he could have done differently, but it is also prudent to point out that Sandusky was eventually found guilty, in part, due to McQueary’s testimony and role as a whistleblower.

Whistleblower protection is vital for a democratic society

Whistleblowers perform a duty that is potentially dangerous in many different ways. Blowing the whistle on a powerful entity or person can leave a whistleblower at risk of being intimidated, it can lead them to be smeared publically and it can lead them being fired or punished by their employer.

Protecting whistleblowers is of vital importance to maintaining accountability in a democratic society where the watchful eyes of government agencies and watchdog organizations can only peer so far. Sometimes, the only proof of wrongdoing is held by private individuals who make the gutsy call to go public.

In these cases, good legal representation is non-negotiable. The complex legal framework involved in whistleblowing cases is the area of entire branches of law, and hiring an attorney is the first step for anyone who has information that could potentially lead to an arrest or punitive action against a person or entity who has committed a crime.

At Altman & Altman LLP, we believe in the spirit of whistleblowing as a vital cog in the machine of justice, and we will use our extensive experience to advocate on behalf of anybody willing to bring an issue of criminal wrongdoing to light.

If you have a tip on a  matter that needs to be known publically, call us for a free consultation to go over the details today at 617-492-3000 or toll-free at 800-481-6199. We are available 24/7.