Schnebly v. G4S Youth Services, LLC

First District Court of Appeal.

In this case, the First District Court of Appeal reversed the determination of the Florida Commission on Human Relations (“FCHR”), regarding a whistleblower claim filed by an employee of a contractor providing services to the Department of Juvenile Justice. Section 112.3187(2) of the Florida Statutes applies to both agencies of the state or local government and independent contractors. For some reason, the FCHR had dismissed the claim of Ms. Schnebly against her employer, despite the fact that her employer was an independent contractor of a state agency. The first DCA reversed the dismissal.

The case brings to the forefront some of the problems which have been occurring with the FCHR in recent years. The FCHR has become a very political institution, and many of the decisions of its recently dismissed executive director simply did not comply with the statutes. I was involved with a case in which the FCHR dismissed a whistleblower claim as untimely, even though the employee appealed her termination within the time permitted under the statute. The FCHR held that the employee had to appeal within 60 days of the notice of the proposed dismissal, rather than from the date of the notice of the dismissal itself. Given the fact that the appeal time was only 60 days, and the advanced notice can be weeks, if not months, in some circumstances, the ruling of the Florida Commission on Human Relations, in that case, would have effectively prevented a number of whistleblowers from ever filing a claim had they decided to wait to see if internal pre-disciplinary appeals would be successful. The first DCA did ultimately dismiss our case on other grounds (an election of remedies issues), but made it clear that the timeliness standard adopted by the FCHR was simply wrong.

It is the hope of many practitioners in this state that some of the legal interpretations of the FCHR will change with new leadership. I certainly hope that this agency does not elect to simply become a partisan body but instead attempts to provide real protection to the citizens of the state of Florida.