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Florida First DCA affirms summary judgment denying claim of school district employee under the Florida Whistleblower’s Act, concluding that plaintiff’s letter asking for higher rate of pay was not a protected disclosure under the Act

On June 29, 2020, in Pickford v. Taylor County School District, No. 1D19-1924, the Florida First DCA affirmed a trial court’s summary judgment for the defendant in a lawsuit brought under the Florida Whistleblower‘s Act, §112.3187(5), Fla. Stat. (2016). The First DCA noted that in order to state a claim under the Act the plaintiff, a teacher who had been terminated by the defendant school district, had to establish that (1) prior to his termination, he made a disclosure protected by the Act; (2) he suffered an adverse employment action; and (3) some causal connection existed between the first two elements, citing Nazzal v. Fla. Dep’t of Corr., 267 So. 3d 1094, 1096 (Fla. 1st DCA 2019), review denied, No. SC19-793, 2019 WL 6248307 (Fla. Nov. 22, 2019). The plaintiff claimed that the “disclosure” requirement was satisfied by a letter he wrote to his school’s principal prior to his termination in which he argued that he should be paid at the pay rate for a full-time teacher rather than a substitute teacher. However, the First DCA pointed out that Whistleblower’s Act specifically provides that a protected disclosure must include a reference to either (1) a violation or suspected violation of law committed by an employee or agent of an agency or independent contractor which creates and presents a substantial and specific danger to the public's health, safety, or welfare, or (2) an act or suspected act of gross mismanagement, malfeasance, misfeasance, gross waste of public funds, suspected or actual Medicaid fraud or abuse, or gross neglect of duty committed by an employee or agent of an agency or independent contractor. The First DCA concluded that the plaintiff’s letter did not satisfy these criteria.