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A Better Partnership
June 19, 2016

COA holds that attorneys are members of a “public body” under the Whisteblower’s Protection Act

In Tammy McNeil-Marks v. Mid-Michigan Medical Center-Gratiot, No. 326606, the Michigan Court of Appeals held that attorneys are considered members of “public bodies” under the Michigan Whistleblower’s Protection Act (“WPA”).  Under the WPA “public body” is defined as among other things a body “created by state or local authority or which is primarily funded through state or local authority, or any member or employee of that body.”  Because a licensed Michigan attorney in good standing is a member of the Michigan Bar Association, which, in turn, is created by state authority, a report to him or her is a report to a public body for purposes of the WPA.
 
Plaintiff filed suit against her former employer, Mid-Michigan Medical Center-Gratiot (“MMCG”), following her discharge in the wake of an encounter with Marcia Fields, against whom Plaintiff had a personal protection order (“PPO”).  Fields was admitted to the medical center and then she and Plaintiff had a run-in.  Plaintiff informed her lawyer of the encounter but did not tell him that Fields was a patient.  MMCG claimed that plaintiff violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPPA”) by calling her attorney.  MMCG discharged Plaintiff for this putative HIPPA violation.  Plaintiff argued that her discharge violated the WPA and public policy.  The trial court granted summary disposition for MMCG.  Plaintiff appealed.
 
The Court of Appeals reversed.  It held that Plaintiff’s call to her attorney to report the violation of the PPO amounted to a report to a public body of a legal violation.  The Court interpreted the WPA’s definition of public body to include the Michigan Bar Association and its members, as the Bar is created by state authority and primarily funded through state authority.  Additionally, the Court also explained that even if the encounter between Plaintiff and Fields did not amount to a violation of the PPO the WPA covers good-faith reports of suspected legal violations.  Thus, Plaintiff’s report to her attorney, a member of a public body, was covered by the WPA.  Accordingly, because Plaintiff presented direct evidence that her discharge was motivated by her call to counsel, the Court held that her WPA claim should have survived summary disposition.  The Court did affirm the trial court’s ruling that the WPA claim preempted a common-law public policy claim; finding that the two claims arose from the same events. 

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