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Florida Fifth DCA affirms trial court's dismissal of plaintiff's claim brought under Florida Whistleblower's Act

On November 16, 2018, in Griffin v. Deloach, Case No. 5D17-2449, the Florida Fifth DCA affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of a plaintiff’s claim brought under Florida Whistleblower’s Act, concluding that Putnam County Sherriff’s Office had a legitimate non-retaliatory reason for the plaintiff’s employment termination. The plaintiff, a Putnam County Deputy Sheriff, had made allegations to his superiors about another officer’s misconduct. While that issue was being investigated, the plaintiff himself became involved in a situation in which it was subsequently alleged that he had lied to a judge about the status of a potential cooperating witness. After his employment was terminated, ostensibly for the latter misconduct, he filed a lawsuit against the Sheriff under Florida Whistleblower Act, Section 112.3187, Florida Statutes (2015). The Fifth DCA concluded that the trial court had properly dismissed the complaint because the plaintiff had failed to present evidence to refute the Sheriff’s legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for firing him. The Fifth DCA specifically noted that even if the Sheriff’s Office had reached the wrong conclusion about the underlying facts, a factually incorrect result after an employer’s investigation does not, by itself, create a disputed factual issue, nor is it evidence of a pretext on the part of the Sheriff’s Office. Quoting Burley v. Nat’l Passenger Rail Corp., 801 F.3d 290, 296 (D.C. Cir. 2015), the Court stated: “[i]nstead, a plaintiff must show that the employer is ‘making up or lying about the underlying facts that formed the predicate for the employment decision,’ the employer is egregiously wrong in its factual findings, or the ‘employer's investigation . . . is so unsystematic and incomplete that a [jury] could conclude that the employer sought, not to discover the truth, but to cover up its own [prohibited conduct].’”

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