South Carolina’s Whistleblower Protections – A Review for SC Attorneys, Lawyers & Law Firms

South Carolina whistleblowers who are employed by a South Carolina state government agency are protected from adverse employment actions when they timely report violations of state or federal laws or regulations or other wrongdoing. South Carolina attorneys, lawyers and law firms who represent SC state government whistleblowers should be aware of the protections afforded to these employees who are fired, demoted, suspended or otherwise subjected to an adverse action in reaction to a report of fraud or other wrongdoing by a public agency or one of its officers or employees. South Carolina whistleblower attorneys, lawyers and law firms should also be aware of the administrative requirements necessary to invoke the protections of the state’s anti-retaliation statute, as well as the relief provisions afforded to such SC whistleblowers. There are also some whistleblower protections for government and private employees who report violations of South Carolina’s occupational safety and health statutes, rules or regulations.

South Carolina’s Whistleblower Protection Act for State Government Employees

South Carolina’s General Assembly enacted legislation called the “Employment Protection for Reports of Violations of State or Federal Law or Regulation” (the “Act”) to protect South Carolina state employees from retaliation or disciplinary actions when they report violations of state or federal laws or regulations or other wrongdoing including fraud and abuse. See South Carolina Code § 8-27-10, et seq. The Act prohibits a South Carolina public body from decreasing the compensation of, or dismissing, suspending or demoting, a state employee based on the employee’s filing of a protected report of wrongdoing with an appropriate authority. S.C. Code § 8-27-20(A). The protected report must be made by the SC whistleblower in good faith and not be a mere technical violation. Id. The Act does not apply to private, non-government employers or employees. S.C. Code § 8-27-50.

A public body under the Act means one of the following South Carolina entities: (A) a department of the State; (B) a state board, commission, committee, agency, or authority; (C) a public or governmental body or political subdivision of the State, including counties, municipalities, school districts, or special purpose or public service districts; (D) an organization, corporation, or agency supported in whole or in part by public funds or expending public funds; or, (E) a quasi-governmental body of the State and its political subdivisions. S.C. Code § 8-27-10(1).

A South Carolina employee under the Act is an employee of any South Carolina public body entity, generally excluding those state executives whose appointment or employment is subject to Senate confirmation. S.C. Code § 8-27-10(2).

An appropriate authority under the Act means either (A) the public body that employs the whistleblower making the protected report, or (B) a federal, state, or local governmental body, agency, or organization having jurisdiction over criminal law enforcement, regulatory violations, professional conduct or ethics, or wrongdoing, including but not limited to, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (“SLED”), a County Solicitor’s Office, the State Ethics Commission, the State Auditor, the Legislative Audit Council (the “LAC”), and the Office of Attorney General (the “SCAG”). S.C. Code § 8-27-10(3). When a protected report is made to an entity other than the public body employing the whistleblower making the report, the Act requires that the employing public body be notified as soon as practicable by the entity that received the report. Id.

A SC whistleblower employee’s protected report under the Act is a written document alleging waste or wrongdoing which is made within sixty (60) days of the date the reporting employee first learns of the alleged wrongdoing, and which includes (a) the date of disclosure; (b) the name of the employee making the report; and, (c) the nature of the wrongdoing and the date or range of dates on which the wrongdoing allegedly occurred. S.C. Code § 8-27-10(4).

Pursuant to the Act, a reportable wrongdoing is any action by a public body which results in substantial abuse, misuse, destruction, or loss of substantial public funds or public resources, including allegations that a public employee has intentionally violated federal or state statutory law or regulations or other political subdivision ordinances or regulations or a code of ethics, S.C. Code § 8-27-10(5). A violation which is merely technical or of a de minimus nature is not a “wrongdoing” under the Act. Id.

Rewards for SC Whistleblowers

When a SC state employee blows the whistle on fraudulent or abusive acts or violations of federal, state or local laws, rules or regulations, and the protected report results in savings of public funds for the state of South Carolina, the whistleblower is entitled to a reward or bounty under the Act. However, the reward is extremely limited. The provisions of the Act provide that a SC whistleblower is entitled to the lesser of Two Thousand Dollars ($2,000) or twenty-five percent (25%) of the estimated money saved by the state in the first year of the whistleblowing employee’s report. The South Carolina State Budget and Control Board determines the amount of the monetary reward that is to be paid to the employee who is eligible for the reward as a result of filing a protected report. See S.C. Code § 8-27-20(B). This reward is very meager when compared to the bounty provisions of the federal False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. §§ 3729-3732 (the “FCA”). The FCA allows a qui tam whistleblower or relator to receive up to 30% of the total amount of the government’s recovery against defendants who have made false and fraudulent claims for payment to the United States. Some recent federal FCA recoveries by the U.S. Department of Justice have exceeded $1 Billion Dollars.

However, the Act does not supersede the State Employee Suggestion Program, and if a whistleblower employee’s agency participates in the State Employee Suggestion Program, then items identified as involving “wrongdoing” must be referred as a suggestion to the program by the employee. A South Carolina government employee is entitled to only one reward either under the Act or under the State Employee Suggestion Program, at the employee’s option. Id.

Civil Remedies for SC Whistleblowers

If a South Carolina government employee suffers an adverse action related to employment within one (1) year after having timely filed a protected report which alleged wrongdoing, the employee may institute a non-jury civil action against the public body employer after exhausting all available grievance or other administrative remedies, and such grievance/administrative proceedings have resulted in a finding that the employee would not have been disciplined but for the reporting of alleged wrongdoing. S.C. Code § 8-27-30(A). The adverse action or retaliations can include is dismissal, suspension from employment, demotion, or a decrease in whistleblower’s compensation. The statutory remedies under the Act that the adversely effected employee may recover are (1) reinstatement to his or her former employment position; (2) lost wages; (3) actual damages not to exceed Fifteen Thousand Dollars ($15,000); and (4) reasonable attorney fees as determined by the court. Id. However, an award of attorney’s fees has a cap under the Act, and may not exceed Ten Thousand Dollars ($10,000) for any trial and Five Thousand Dollars ($5,000) for any appeal. Id.

At least one court has addressed the Act’s remedies with respect to a whistleblower employee. In Lawson v. South Carolina Department of Corrections, 340 S.C. 346, 532 S.E.2d 259 (2000), the S.C. Supreme Court held that when a whistleblower employee is limited to a recovery under the statutory remedies of the Act when the employee alleges a wrongful discharge only on the grounds of his whistleblowing. In Lawson, the court granted summary judgment against the employee because he could not point to a violation of any policy, ethics rule, or other regulation as a basis for his whistleblower action which amounted to “wrongdoing” under the Act. Id.

Adverse Actions Based Upon Causes Independent of a Protected Report

In the event the appropriate authority which received the report determines the whistleblower employee’s report is unfounded or a mere technical violation and is not made in good faith, the public body may take disciplinary action including termination and, notwithstanding the filing of a report, a public body may dismiss, suspend, demote, or decrease the compensation of an employee for causes independent of the filing of a protected report. Id. A South Carolina public body may also impose disciplinary sanctions against any direct line supervisory employees who retaliate against another employee for having filed a good faith report.

Statute of Limitations

Under the Act, a whistleblower’s civil action must be commenced within one (1) year after the accrual of the cause of action or exhaustion of all available grievance or other administrative and judicial remedies, or such a lawsuit is forever barred. S.C. Code § 8-27-30(B).

Occupational Safety and Health Act (“OSHA”) Whistleblower Protections

South Carolina has a separate whistleblower protection statute for employees who report violations of statutes, rules or regulations regarding occupational safety and health. S.C. Code § 41-15-510. The protected activities include filing a complaint, instituting a proceeding, or testifying about OSHA violations. Any employee who has been discharged or otherwise discriminated against by any person in violation of Section 41-15-510 has the right to file a complaint with the South Carolina Commission of Labor alleging such discrimination. The SC Labor Commissioner shall cause investigation to be made as he or she deems appropriate, and, if the Commissioner determines that anti-discrimination provisions of Section 41-15-510 have been violated, he must institute a law suit in the appropriate court of common pleas against such discriminating person or entity. In any such action, the court of common pleas has injunctive authority to restrain such OSHA anti-discrimination violations, as well as authority to order all appropriate relief including rehiring or reinstatement of employee to his or her former position with back pay. S.C. Code § 41-15-520. Unlike the Act, the OSHA whistleblower protections are available to state government and private employees.

Conclusion

South Carolina whistleblowers who are employed by a South Carolina state government agency are protected from adverse employment actions when they timely report violations of state or federal laws or regulations or other wrongdoing. South Carolina attorneys, lawyers and law firms who represent SC state government whistleblowers need to know the protections afforded to these employees who are fired, demoted, suspended or otherwise subjected to an adverse action in reaction to a report of fraud or other wrongdoing by a public agency or one of its officers or employees. South Carolina whistleblower attorneys, lawyers and law firms should review the administrative requirements necessary to invoke the protections of the state’s anti-retaliation statute, the statutes of limitations, as well as the remedial provisions afforded to such SC state government whistleblowers, in order to properly advise such clients. So too, the employment attorney should be aware of the rights and remedies of both private and South Carolina government employees who blow the whistle of violations of state OSHA statutes, rules or regulations.

© 2010 Joseph P. Griffith, Jr.

Benefits of Law Transcription Services

Quality law transcription services ensure an array of benefits for legal professionals and law firms. The significant advantage is that these services enable legal professionals to maintain error-free and updated textual copies of important legal dictations in their practices. These documents can be easily retrieved for reference at any point of time.

Benefits of Law Transcription Services – An Overview

Legal practices and law firms have to manage a series of legal proceedings on a regular basis. Amidst their busy schedule, legal professionals most often might not get enough time to devote for transcription. Entrusting their law documentation tasks to a reliable legal transcription company would allow them to complete the documentation procedures and get the transcripts updated quickly. Well coordinated law transcription services offered by established transcription companies ensure legal practices benefits such as:

Reduce documentation workload: Professional transcription services considerably reduce the documentation workload of legal professionals. These services save precious time and effort, and help them focus more on core processes.

Avoid file backlogs: As the dictations are transcribed by experts on a regular basis, legal practitioners can easily avoid file backlogs.

Save additional expenses: Through outsourcing their core documentation tasks, legal entities can save the huge expenses that would be otherwise required to maintain the infrastructure, resources, manpower and technology to perform the transcription jobs in-house.

Improve efficiency and productivity: Reduced workload considerably enhances the efficiency of legal professionals and their supporting workforce, which would definitely make the practice more professional and productive, and improve its reputation.

Law reports in convenient file formats: Efficient legal transcription services help lawyers and attorneys maintain transcribed law reports in easy-to-use electronic file formats or as hard copies. The records would be kept well-organized and can be easily retrieved as and when needed.

Ideal Transcription Solutions for all Legal Documents

Outsourcing companies strive to deliver quality transcription services that precisely match the specific documentation needs of legal entities. To offer professional law enforcement transcription services in a modern infrastructure, most firms utilize advanced transcription technology, software utilities and services of experienced transcription experts and quality controllers. The transcription specialists in these firms are highly skilled and provide secure and accurate services. They can efficiently handle dictations provided in any file format such as digital audio files, digital video files, audio CDs, micro cassette tapes, cassette tapes, DVDs and more. These experts offer reliable transcription solutions for the following legal documents:

• Legal pleadings
• Law enforcement field dictation
• Memorandum letters
• Court transcripts
• Private investigations
• Depositions
• Hearings
• Client letters
• Interrogations
• Reports
• Wire-taps
• Briefs
• Surveillance reports, and more

Excellent Document Accuracy Rate

Transcription services offered by a reputable legal transcription company ensure your transcribed documents an accuracy rate of 99%. Their professional services also feature:

• Convenient dictation options: Digital recorder dictation, Toll free phone dictation
• Excellent data security and confidentiality
• Electronic signature
• Three level quality assurance
• Transcription management software
• Feeds for EHR or EPM
• Rapid turnaround time
• Affordable pricing up to 40% lower than market rates
• Continuous technical support
• Free trial offer

Outsource to an Established Company

When planning to outsource their law transcription tasks, legal entities must necessarily utilize the services of an established legal transcription company. The services offered by such a firm can assure you many benefits in terms of reliability, quality, pricing structure and instant response.

What Are Effective Case Law Citations in Essay Writing?

In view of the problems that many students all too often experience in this area, in this brief article I look to now take you through the intricacies of referencing case law in all subjects with a legal element to their study in the UK in particular. Therefore, this will prove especially useful for those studying English law or any subject areas with an English law element when writing your work.

With this in mind, when looking to cite case law in your work it is necessary to consider the traditional form of referencing case law for essay writing in legal subjects that looks to provide –

(a) Name of Case

This should be printed in italics or underlined (do not highlight or use different coloured ink)

(b) Year

This should be in square brackets [1992] or round brackets (1957). The majority of modem law reports use square brackets indicating the year is an integral part of the reference, but some series also adopt a system of volume numbering that runs consecutively through the series in which case the year is in round brackets and simply indicates the date the judgement was given.

(c) Volume Number

Many reports have several volumes each year numerically. As a result, the year will be in [square brackets] and will be an integral part of the reference, whilst those case law series that are numbered consecutively from the beginning will have the year in (round brackets).

(d) Abbreviation for the Series

This indicates the series in which the law report is published – the All England Reports (All ER) is very popular. For your further information a full list of abbreviations can be found in Raistrick. D. S (2007) ‘Index to Legal Citations and Abbreviations’ 2nd Edition, London, Bowker-Saur or in the monthly parts and yearbook of ‘Current Law’.

(e) Page Number or Case Number

The page number is the number within the volume of the report where you will find the case.

Since 2001 some series have started using unique numbers of each case within each year. Therefore, for example, ‘[2005] 2 Cr. App. R. 4’ refers to the fourth case of volume 2 of Criminal Appeal Reports 2005.

At the same time, however, recent reports also number each paragraph, so that the precise point in the case may be cited. As a result, this is especially useful if you are quoting directly from a particular judgement. At the same time, however, it is to be appreciated that, in the past, particular passages could be identified by reference to the letter to be found in the margin.

(f) [Optional] Court

On this basis, it is always important to know which court made the decision and it is good practice to develop the habit of including an indication of the court at the end of the reference – for example, House of Lords (HL) and Court of Appeal (CA).

Examples – There are generally too forms of case law decisions to be cited –

(i) For civil case law decisions in a case like ‘Johnson v Phillips [1975] 3 All ER 682’, by way of illustration, it is usually the claimant (plaintiff) v defendant. As a result, the ‘v’ stands for ‘versus’ or ‘against’, whilst the case is normally referred to in direct speech in a court scenario, for example, as ‘Johnson & Phillips’.

(ii) For criminal case law decisions in a case like ‘R v Lynch (1966) 50 Cr. App. R. 59’, by way of illustration, it is usually the Crown v the defendant. Moreover, as well as the ‘v’ standing for ‘versus’ or ‘against’, ‘R’ stands for ‘Rex’ (‘the King’) or ‘Regina’ (‘the Queen’). This case would then usually be referred to in direct speech in a court scenario, for example, as the ‘Crown against Lynch’ or just ‘Lynch’.

Neutral Citations

Moreover, it is also to be appreciated that, from January 2001, there has been an alternative method available for effectively referencing cases that was introduced to cope with the growth in the number of online reports that also proves very useful for the essay writing process. As a result, all of the case law decisions from the High Court and Court of Appeal have been assigned unique numbers so as to then be able to more easily identify the case since this new method of case citation for academic work also uses paragraph numbers within the case citation itself as part of the essay writing process in this area.

Example:

Grobbelaar v. News Group Newspapers Ltd [2001] EWCA Civ 1213.

Therefore, all case law is to be cited by the name(s) of the parties followed by the medium neutral citation in the essay writing process. Moreover, as well as the year when the case was cited, the reference in essay writing not only shows the legal jurisdiction, but also the court, the division of that court, the reference number assigned to the case by the official court shorthand writers, and (also often) a paragraph reference.