Asking About Retirement Contributions Does Not Amount To Whistleblowing

Grady Throneberry is a part-time police officer with the City of Audubon Park, Kentucky. At the time of his hiring, the Police Chief explained to Throneberry that additional benefits, including the state “hazardous duty pension plan,” would become available to him if he became a full-time employee.

In February 2004, Throneberry accepted a full-time position with the Department. While on duty sometime later, he injured his ankle, and went off on workers’ compensation leave. Under City policy, Throneberry’s police powers were suspended during his workers’ compensation leave.

While on leave, Throneberry accessed an internet service known as “Kentucky Courtnet” on several occasions. Kentucky Courtnet is a law enforcement data system, the use of which is restricted under Kentucky law. After an investigation, the City terminated Throneberry.

Throneberry filed a lawsuit under Kentucky’s whistleblower statute, contending that the real reason for his termination was his repeated inquiries about when the City would provide him with the hazardous duty pension plan. An appeals court found that even assuming Throneberry’s characterization of the City’s motivation was correct, the types of inquiries made by Throneberry did not amount to whistleblowing covered by statute.

The Court described the whistleblowing statute as prohibiting acts “which are in response to an employee who in good faith reports or otherwise brings to the attention of an appropriate agency either violations of the law, suspected mismanagement, waste, fraud, abuse of authority or a substantial or specific danger to public safety or health. Including Throneberry’s actions within this definition would expand the scope of the law in a way that is simply not supported. Also, Throneberry has presented no evidence that he attempted to bring his concerns to the attention of a statutorily-designated authority, nor has he specified violations of any statutory or constitutional provisions.” For this reason, the Court dismissed Throneberry’s whistleblowing lawsuit.

Throneberry v. City of Audubon Park, 2008 WL 4530917 (Ky.App. 2008).

This article appears in the January 2009 issue