In a significant development, the California Supreme Court has expanded whistleblower protection under Labor Code Section 1102.5(b). Previously, courts required whistleblowers to disclose new information, limiting protection for employees reporting violations already known to their employers. However, this week’s ruling changes that interpretation.
The case of People ex rel. Garcia-Brower v. Kolla’s Inc. involved a bartender in Orange County who complained to the nightclub owner about unpaid wages for her previous shifts.
In response, the owner terminated her employment and made threats regarding immigration authorities. The bartender filed a complaint with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE), which led to a lawsuit by the Labor Commissioner against the nightclub, including a retaliation claim under Section 1102.5(b).
Initially, both the trial court and the appellate court ruled against the Labor Commissioner, stating that a protected “disclosure” required revealing new information. Since the nightclub owner was already aware of the unpaid wage violation, the courts deemed it not to be a protected disclosure.
The California Supreme Court overruled this, clarifying that an employee’s complaint about a potential law violation amounts to a “disclosure” under Section 1102.5(b). This stands regardless of whether the recipient was already informed of the issue. The ruling brings state law in line with the federal Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act — which shields disclosures even if they are not new to the recipient.
For expert guidance and support in matters regarding the California whistleblower protection law and related labor concerns, contact the experienced California employment attorneys at Labor Law Advocates. We are here to advocate for your rights and provide the legal assistance you need.