The Republican controlled Tennessee General Assembly has just abolished Tennessee common law whistleblower claims. It appears certain that the Governor will sign the bill making it the law in Tennessee. This legislation is a real blow to employees who report illegal activities, leaving them with almost no protection from retaliation. It is a huge victory for employers who are committing illegal acts that harm the health, safety and welfare of citizens of Tennessee. Currently, there are two claims that an employee can bring when fired for blowing the whistle on illegal activities: a common law claim of retaliatory discharge and statutory claim under the Tennessee Public Protection Act (TPPA), Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-1-304(b). The Tennessee common law makes it illegal for an employer to terminate an employee when he is discharged in contravention of well-defined and established public policy. Guy v. Mutual of Omaha Ins. Co., 79 S.W.3d 528, 535 (Tenn. 2002). The Supreme Court has allowed a common law claim when employees are fired for making a workers compensation claim, serving on jury duty and blowing the whistle on illegal employer activity.
The Tennessee Public Protection Act
In 1994, the TPPA was enacted to give governmental employees some protection as to whistle blowing activity against a state entity. The TPPA provides, “No employee shall be discharged or terminated solely for refusing to participate in, or for refusing to remain silent about, illegal activities.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-1-304(b). A statutory action brought under the TPPA is cumulative to the common law tort of retaliatory discharge. Guy, 79 S.W.3d at 537. In other words an employee can bring both claims in the same suit.