Whitman v. City of Burton (Opinion - Leave Granted)Annotate this Case
Plaintiff Bruce Whitman had been employed by defendant City of Burton as the police chief from 2002 until 2007. Codefendant Charles Smiley, the Mayor, declined to reappoint plaintiff. Plaintiff then filed suit under the Whistleblowers' Protection Act (WPA), alleging that he was not reappointed because he had threatened to pursue criminal charges against the mayor if the city did not comply with a city ordinance and pay him for unused sick, personal and vacation time he accumulated in 2003. Defendants contended that plaintiff had agreed to forgo any payout for accumulated leave in order to avoid a severe budgetary shortfall and that plaintiff was not reappointed because the mayor was dissatisfied with plaintiff's performance as police chief. A jury returned a verdict in favor of plaintiff; the trial court denied defendants' motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or a new trial. Defendants then appealed. The Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that plaintiff's claim was not actionable under the WPA because he had acted to advance his own financial interests and not out of an altruistic motive of protecting the public. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that nothing in the WPA's language addressed an employee's motivation for engaging in protected conduct, nor did any language mandate that the employee's primary motivation for pursuing a claim under the Act be a desire to inform the public of matters of public concern. Accordingly, the Court reversed the appellate court and remanded the case for consideration of remaining issues on which that court did not formally rule, including whether the causation element of the WPA had been met.