The Louisiana Environmental Whistleblower Statute, La. R.S. 30:2027, protects employees who, in good faith, disclose, or threaten to disclose, acts they reasonably believe to be in violation of an environmental law, rule, or regulation. It also protects employees who testify or provide information to a public body about such acts. An employer may not retaliate against an employee who engages in activity protected by the statute. The statute provides for the trebling of certain damages awarded to a prevailing plaintiff.
Last week, the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal reversed a $750,000 judgment against the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (“DNR”), finding that the plaintiffs were independent contractors of the State – not employees – and, therefore, outside the scope of the statute’s protection.
Earlier in the suit, the jury found that the plaintiffs were employees of DNR; that they reported what they believed to be environmental violations; and as a result of their reports, DNR retaliated against them. The jury awarded the plaintiffs $250,000 in lost wages, which was then tripled to $750,000 by the statute’s trebling provision. On appeal, the court found that the plaintiffs were independent contractors, rather than employees of DNR. As a result of this finding, the plaintiffs were outside the scope of La. R.S. 30:2027, and the case was dismissed.