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Sunday, June 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Tenn. Horse Groom Loses Whistle-Blower Claim

(CN) - A stable worker who was kicked by a horse and stitched up by a veterinarian did not qualify as a whistleblower because he only complained to his boss, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled.

Charles Haynes worked as a horse groom at Formac Stables in Union City, Tenn. on April 3, 2010, he was kicked in the head by "Bruce Pearl," a horse named after the former University of Tennessee men's basketball coach.

In a complaint later filed in the Obion County circuit court, Haynes alleged that the stable owner would not let him off work to seek medical attention, allowing him only to have a vet close his wound with horse sutures.

According to Haynes, his boss said that if he didn't like that option, he could "find (him)self another job."

Haynes said he suffered from severe headaches and complained about the horse-suture procedure until his boss fired him almost three months later. In his lawsuit, Haynes claimed he was the victim of retaliatory discharge. His former employer moved to dismiss the case on the grounds the groom hadn't complained to anyone other than the owner.

Circuit Court Judge William Acree agreed with the stables and dismissed the case. Haynes then turned to the Tennessee Court of Appeals, but was no more successful there.

He then took the case to the Tennessee Supreme Court in an issue of first impression. He argued that forcing employees to report illegal activity to someone outside the company would prevent employers from taking corrective action.

Formac responded by arguing that reporting to the boss who committed the activity does not fulfill the law's requirement that a whistleblower must further the public interest.

The court sided with Formac in an opinion written by Justice Gary R. Wade.

"Formac's position is supported by the case law of courts in other jurisdictions addressing the same issue," Wade wrote.

He cited Fowler v. Criticare Home Health Services, a 2000 case from the Kansas Court of Appeals, which stated that a whistleblower "must seek out the intervention of a higher authority, either inside or outside the company."

Wade concluded that "because the allegations in the plaintiff's amended complaint establish that he did not expose Formac's illegal conduct by reporting it to anyone aside from the person responsible for the conduct, the Court of Appeals properly affirmed the dismissal of the amended complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted."

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