Cities Not “Political Subdivisions” In The State Of Kentucky

Brian Baker began working for the Stanford, Kentucky Fire Department in November 1996. He was eventually promoted to the position of lieutenant. Beginning in January 2006, Baker became concerned about the reliability and safety of the equipment used by the Department. Baker complained to the Fire Chief, Ken McDaniel, several times over the course of a year. Although McDaniel acknowledged problems with the equipment, he failed to take any action.

As a result, Baker, along with several other members of the Department, complained about the safety issues to the Mayor, Bill Miracle, in February 2007. Miracle acknowledged the problems and agreed to help address his concerns. When Miracle failed to take any action, Baker then placed the Department on the agenda for the Stanford City Council meeting scheduled for July 2007. Miracle removed the Department from the agenda so that Baker and the other firefighters were prevented from addressing their concerns to the Council.

Baker and the other concerned firefighters attended the next meeting of the City Council in August 2007. After the meeting adjourned, Baker and the other firefighters voiced their concerns to two City Council members. Miracle was present and defended the Fire Chief to the City Council members present.

Approximately two weeks later, Baker was called into Miracle’s real estate business office. Both Miracle and McDaniel were present and informed Baker that he was fired from his employment with the City. Baker was also notified that the City Council concurred with the termination. Baker subsequently filed a lawsuit alleging a violation of Kentucky’s whistleblower statute. A federal trial court recently dismissed his claims.

Kentucky’s whistleblowing statute, which applies to “employers,” contains a definition of the term “employer” as “the Commonwealth of Kentucky or any of its political subdivisions.” In the eyes of the Court, cities in Kentucky were not “political subdivisions” of the state.

The Court reasoned that “unlike counties, cities in Kentucky are not entitled to sovereign immunity. This distinction is important because the omission of municipalities from the definition of ‘employer’ in the whistleblowing statute must be presumed to be intentional under ordinary rules of statutory scheme. In drafting these statutes, the Legislature considered it necessary to list political subdivisions separately from municipalities. The enumeration of a particular thing, in the case of ‘political subdivision’ demonstrates the omission of another thing, municipalities, is an intentional exclusion.”

Baker v. McDaniel, 2008 WL 215241 (E.D.Ky. 2008).

This article appears in the March 2008 issue