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Editorial - The whistle-blowers

December 01, 1997

Editorial - The whistle-blowers

A Pennsylvania law designed to protect government employees who "blow the whistle" on fellow officials' wrong-doing may be extended to cover private firms that receive state money, if the state's Superior Court agrees. It's a good idea, but adjustments in the law ought to be made by the state legislature and not the courts.

The case involves a Philadelphia doctor who claims she was fired after raising concerns about procedures in the hospital where she worked. Because the hospital receives state money, she says, she should be covered by the whistle-blower law.

Attorney Mary Kohart, who represents the hospital being sued, told The Associated Press that if the court "rules against me and they rule broadly enough, it's a dangerous case for people who take state money."

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What Kohart seems to be hoping for is a court ruling that ties the whistle-blower protection to the company's use of state money. If, for example, you accept state money to provide day care service, but skimp on service to the children to line your own pockets, then the person who blows the whistle on you should be protected.

The court, which heard arguments last week, could rule that way. What's to be feared is a ruling so broad that a company which accepted a free tree from the state as part of any Arbor Day celebration would suddenly be subject to employee complaints over matters totally unrelated to its use of state money.

These kinds of fine distinctions - the dollar amount of state funds that would make a firm subject to the whistle-blower law, for example - are the sort best made in the state legislature.

The original sponsor of this law, Peter Wambach, says he didn't include private business because he felt government employees needed protection first. Now it's time for the legislature to make sure that those who misuse large amounts of state money aren't free to dismiss employees who are brave enough to complain about it.

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