The state Supreme Court says the Department of Justice did not break Wisconsin’s whistleblower protection laws when it demoted a former investigator.
The case comes out of a lawsuit from Joell Schigur, a DOJ employee who raised concerns about a plan to use taxpayer-funded bodyguards to protect then-Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen during the 2008 Republican National Convention in Saint Paul, MN. The agency decided against the move, and Schigur was demoted from her position as the DOJ’s Bureau of Public Integrity director about a month after she brought up the issue.
Schigur challenged the demotion, arguing it was in retaliation for her questioning the use of state resources. An administrative law judge initially found the state had violated the state’s whistleblower protection act, which is designed to prevent action against those who expose wrongdoing in the public sector. However, a Dane County judge later reversed that decision, with a ruling that an appeals court also supported earlier this year.
In a 3-2 decision released Wednesday morning, the state Supreme Court agreed that Schigur was not protected by the law because she had only voiced an opinion, and had not presented actual evidence of wrongdoing. The majority sided with prior courts’ rulings that the law “does not cover employee statements that merely voice opinions or offer criticism.”
In her dissenting opinion, Justice Ann Walsh Bradley wrote the decision “turns the legislative policy on its head” and could discourage future state employees from raising concerns about the use of state resources.