Written by Ravi Sattiraju on September 24, 2018
The New York Times op-ed by a Trump administration official published on September 5th continues to make waves. It is easy enough to see why. In the article, an anonymous government official claimed to be part of the “resistance” to the Trump administration and even alleged that the President had no respect for democracy.
After reading this editorial, an interesting thought arose: what if Trump found out the writer’s identity and fired him or her. Could the writer claim protection under federal whistleblower laws?
Is the Op-Ed Writer Protected against Retaliation?
Without knowing the identity of the op-ed writer, it is a little difficult to say. However, he or she should be protected by the federal Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 and the Whistleblower Protection Act Enhancement of 2012.
These laws protect federal employees who blow the whistle on certain illegal activity. Since the op-ed writer allegedly works for the federal government, he or she falls under its protective umbrella.
Has the Op-Ed Writer Reported Illegal Activity?
Federal whistleblowing laws don’t protect everyone with a grievance (and the email address of a New York Times editor). Instead, you must be blowing the whistle on prohibited or illegal activity, such as:
- A violation of a rule, regulation, or law;
- A serious waste of funds;
- Gross mismanagement;
- Abuse of authority; or
- A danger to the public that is specific and substantial.
Unfortunately, the Times op-ed was long on conclusory statements but short on substance. For example, the writer accused the President of “amorality,” “erratic behavior,” and a “preference for dictators.” This administration official also complained that Trump “continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic.”
However, complaints about dangers to the public must be substantial and specific. Simply calling someone “erratic” does not qualify. Even worse, the op-ed writer later clarifies that officials have managed to get Trump to walk back some of his worse ideas, meaning he never implemented them.
Finally, much of the op-ed laments that the President shows a “lack of interest in conservative ideas” and has “anti-trade” instincts. These are mere ideological disagreements, which are not covered by the whistleblower statute.
Did the Op-Ed Writer Blow the Whistle in the Right Way?
No. To seek protection, a federal employee should report any violation to:
- A supervisor;
- The Inspector General; or
- The Office of Special Counsel.
Complaining in a New York Times op-ed is not the right way to blow the whistle.
Ready to Blow the Whistle? Seek Experienced Legal Counsel
If you work for the federal government and are aware of illegality or abuse, you should consider whether to blow the whistle to appropriate authorities. Instead of complaining in a public op-ed, you need to follow the law closely so that you enjoy all its protections.
At the Sattiraju Law Firm, we know federal and state whistleblower laws inside and out, and we can carefully discuss your options with you. If you have already blown the whistle and suffered retaliation, we can help you get relief as well. To schedule a consultation with a skilled New Jersey whistleblower defense lawyer, please call or send an online message.