Supreme Court decides Whistleblower Case in Rhode Island

In a ruling issued this week, in Peter W. Russo v. State of Rhode Island, Department of Mental Health, Retardation and Hospitals et al., No. 11-360 (March 24, 2014), the Rhode Island Supreme Court held that placing an employee on paid administrative leave with the requirement that he undergo an IME did not constitute an action which “discharge[d], threaten[ed], or otherwise discriminate[d]” against the employee in violation of the Rhode Island Whistleblowers’ Protection Act (WPA), G.L. 1956 chapter 50 of title 28.

In so holding, the Court vacated the decision of the Superior Court and held that the defendant did not violate the WPA.

In 2010, the Superior Court had held that the defendant had violated WPA when it placed the plaintiff on administrative leave with pay and required that he undergo an independent medical examination (IME). The defendant contended on appeal that the trial justice erred in finding: (1) that paid administrative leave and the requirement to undergo an IME constituted a “discharge, threat[], or * * * discriminat[ion]” under the WPA; (2) that the plaintiff had reported violations of a “law or regulation or rule promulgated under the law of [Rhode Island]” (which is one of the preconditions for obtaining relief under the WPA); (3) that there was a causal connection between the plaintiff’s reports at issue in the case and his placement on paid administrative leave; and (4) that the defendant did not have “legitimate nonretaliatory” grounds to place the plaintiff on paid administrative leave and require that he undergo an IME.

The Supreme Court agreed, stating that, “Since the MHRH did not “discharge, threaten, or otherwise discriminate” against Mr. Russo , it cannot be found to have violated the WPA and the trial justice’s decision must be reversed.”

Read the full opinion here.

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