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Florida Fifth DCA remands case brought under Florida Private Whistleblower Act for new trial after concluding that trial court erroneously instructed jury using "motivating factor" causation standard

On October 30, 2020, in Chaudhry v. Adventist Health System Sunbelt, Inc., No. 5D18-2380, the Florida Fifth DCA affirmed a trial court order setting aside a jury’s award to the plaintiff in a case brought under the Florida Private Whistleblower Act, Fla. Stat § 448.102 (2014).  The plaintiff claimed in the lawsuit that he had been unlawfully terminated from his position as a heart-lung transplant surgeon by the defendant, Adventist Health System Sunbelt, Inc., d/b/a Florida Hospital, due to his complaints about the director of the program.  In a recent U.S. Supreme Court case, Univ. of Tex. Sw. Med. Ctr. v. Nassar, 570 U.S. 338 (2013). the Supreme Court held that Title VII retaliation claims must be proved according to traditional principles of but-for causation, meaning that the plaintiff must prove that his or her protected activity was a but-for cause of the alleged adverse action by the employer. Noting that Florida courts have analyzed state whistleblower retaliation claims using the same framework as Title VII claims,  the Fifth DCA concluded that the trial court erred in instructing the jury using a “motivating factor” standard rather than the “but for” standard.  The Court cited in support Palm Beach Cnty. Sch. Bd. v. Wright, 217 So. 3d 163, 163 (Fla. 4th DCA 2017), in which the Fourth DCA reached the same conclusion regarding claims brought under Florida’s Civil Rights Act.  The Fifth DCA remanded the case for a new trial on liability and causation.

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