JUDGE HEARS ORAL ARGUMENTS; WILL RULE NEXT WEEK ON FOX MOTION TO DISMISS
TAMPA (July 9, 1998)—After hearing 15 minutes of oral argument from each side, Florida Judge Robert Bonanno said today he should have a ruling next week on a Motion to Dismiss the suit brought by reporters Jane Akre and Steve Wilson.
Although Fox attorney Patricia Anderson has previously contended the defendant should be protected from the suit by the First Amendment, most of her oral argument Thursday centered on whether the plaintiffs met the legal notification requirements before filing suit.
Apparently now seeking to have the case thrown out on a technicality, Anderson told the court that Akre and Wilson never complained about being asked to lie on television until after September 2, 1997. She suggested their whistleblower claim is nothing more than an effort by the journalists to retaliate against an employer who had a right to dismiss them both.
In response, attorney John Chamblee argued it was actually some five months before their termination notice that the reporters complained of being directed to broadcast information they knew to be false and misleading. It was back in April, he said, when they made it clear they would report such efforts to slant the news to the FCC which regulates station licensees.
The defendant is arguing that before an employee can be protected as a whistleblower under Florida law, the employee must provide the boss with written notification of the illegal or improper directives the worker is refusing to follow before the employer actually fires him or her.
Following the Fox interpretation, a worker refusing orders to dump toxic chemicals in the city water supply would presumably have to provide his employer with a written objection noting the toxic dumping law before the boss could yell, "You’re fired!"
The plaintiffs’ counsel argues that the Florida whistleblower law, like the defamation statue in Florida and other states, simply requires the aggrieved party to notify the defendant before filing suit so that there is an opportunity for the alleged wrong to be righted.
Anderson, who appeared with Fox counsel Gary Roberts of Los Angeles, told the judge Fox does now agree with the plaintiffs on one point.
She acknowledged that Fox failed to provide adequate notification of dismissal to reporter Akre within the window specified in her contract. Without timely written notice, the contract automatically renews and entitles Akre to compensation for a full second year.