INSIDE THE STATEHOUSE: Bill limiting Idaho whistleblower lawsuits heads to governor

Posted at 10:52 AM, Mar 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-19 12:54:24-04

BOISE, Idaho — Whistleblower lawsuits against Idaho would be limited to $370,000 in non-economic damages under legislation that headed to the governor on Wednesday.

The Senate voted 31-1 to approve the measure that has no limit for economic damages.

Economic damages can include loss of income and legal fees. Non-economic damages include such things as pain and suffering, and emotional distress.

Republican Sen. Kelly Anthon told senators the legislation balanced the responsibility the state has to protect whistleblowers who report wrongdoing, while also protecting Idaho taxpayers.

The bill “protects the Idaho taxpayer from judgments of the courts that are without limits and that become punitive in nature,” Anthon told fellow senators.

The measure follows a whistleblower lawsuit the Idaho State Police settled in 2019 for $1.29 million. In that case, a whistleblower claimed ISP retaliated against him because he testified against another officer in a court hearing.

In 2017, the jury awarded $30,500 in lost wages and $1.5 million in non-economic damages for “negligent infliction of emotional distress” to the whistleblower.

But a district judge said Idaho’s tort claim law capped judgments against public agencies at $500,000 per occurrence or accident -- and reduced the award to $1 million.

The Idaho Supreme Court reversed that decision in May, saying the state’s whistleblower statute -- which has no cap -- overrides its tort claim statute. In September, the two sides settled the case at $1.29 million.

Opponents of the legislation have said the $370,000 limit is too low for large municipalities and wouldn’t dissuade bad managers from retaliating.

Idaho settled a separate whistleblower lawsuit out of court in 2019 for $545,000. In that case, a former Idaho Department of Labor purchasing agent said the department retaliated against him and fired him for his efforts to stop employees from skirting purchasing rules.

(by Keith Ridler, Associated Press)