10 Oct ATTORNEYS ARE MEMBERS OF A PUBLIC BODY, PER THE MICHIGAN WHISTLEBLOWER’S PROTECTION ACT
In McNeil-Marks v. Mid-Michigan Medical Center-Gratiot, the Michigan Court of Appeals held that attorneys qualify as members of a “public body” under the Michigan Whistleblower’s Protection Act (WPA). Specifically, any licensed attorney in good standing with the Michigan Bar Association qualifies as a member of a “public body” for WPA purposes. This means an employee who reports a violation to their attorney now has a potential WPA claim if the employee then suffers an adverse employment action as a result of that disclosure to their attorney.
The plaintiff in this case worked at Mid-Michigan Medical Center-Gratiot (MMCG). She had a personal protection order (PPO) against another woman, Ms. Fields, who had been stalking her following a custody dispute. In January 2014, the two women had a run-in in a hallway at MMCG. Ms. Fields had been admitted as a patient, and the run-in was coincidental. However, Ms. Fields deliberately confronted the plaintiff, in violation of the PPO. Upset, plaintiff called her attorney and told him what happened.
When MMCG learned that the plaintiff had informed her lawyer that Ms. Fields was at the hospital, they conducted an investigation into whether any laws had been broken. MMCG concluded that plaintiff violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) by calling her attorney and disclosing Ms. Fields’s “protected health information” by disclosing that Ms. Fields was at the hospital. As a result, plaintiff was fired in February, 2014 for the supposed HIPPA violation.
The question for the Court was whether plaintiff reported Ms. Fields’s conduct to a public body before she was terminated. If so, she would be protected by the WPA. The Appellate Court determined that because plaintiff’s attorney was licensed and in good standing with the Michigan Bar Association, he qualified as a member of a “public body” for WPA purposes. Therefore, plaintiff’s report of the PPO violation to her attorney was a report to a member of a public body, and thus a protected activity under the WPA.