Whistleblowers Beware: Violations of a Charter City's Municipal Law Are Not Violations of State Law For Purposes of Labor Code Section 1102.5(c)

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The California Labor Code protects whistleblowers by prohibiting employers from retaliating against an employee "for refusing to participate in an activity that would result in a violation of state or federal statute, or a violation or noncompliance with a state or federal rule or regulation."  Cal. Labor Code § 1102.5(c).

In Edgerly v. City of Oakland (Alameda Super. Ct. No. RG09461220), the former City Administrator of Oakland, Deborah Edgerly, asserted she was wrongfully terminated as a whistleblower for her refusal to violate the City's Charter, Municipal Code, and civil service rules and resolutions.  Edgerly allegedly questioned and sometimes denied numerous requests that came to her from the Mayor's office, including requests for reimbursement, and to approve contracts in excess of the Mayor's authority. She alleged that she was terminated by the Mayor as a result.

The trial court dismissed Edgerly's claims for whistleblower protection, finding that her claims did not fall within the protection of Section 1102.5(c).  Edgerly appealed.  The Court of Appeal phrased the issue as follows: "Should alleged violations of a charter city's municipal law be deemed violations of state law for purposes of section 1102.5(c)?"  (Emphasis in original.) 

The answer to this question, the Court of Appeal found, is "no."  Accordingly, the court affirmed the trial court's dismissal of Edgerly's whistleblower claims.  The court held that the Legislature's omission of the term "local laws," in its adoption of Section 1102.5(c), "is indicative of legislative intent to exclude such laws from the purview of section 1102.5."  The court also noted that "municipal statutes do not qualify as state statutes within the scope of §1102.5(c) unless there is some enabling provision, for example, a municipal statute or rule stating that the intent of the city is to have its local laws treated as statewide statutes for purposes of this section." 

Accordingly, Edgerly was not entitled to the whistleblower protections provided for employees who allege violations of state statutes under Section 1102.5(c).

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