Sanders v. Energy Northwest

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Labor Law
  • Date Filed: 02-12-2016
  • Case #: 14-35368
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Leavy for the Court; Circuit Judges Graber and Tallman; Dissent by Graber
  • Full Text Opinion

An employee asserting retaliation must establish the following elements for a prima facie case: (1) the employee was engaged in a protected activity; (2) the employer knew or suspected the employee was engaged in the protected activity; (3) the employee suffered an adverse action; and (4) the surrounding circumstances allude that the protected activity was a contributing factor in the adverse action.

Energy Northwest, Washington corporation, owns and operates a nuclear power plant. David Sanders was an Energy Northwest employee, specifically a maintenance manager. Sanders’s duties involved supervising maintenance contractors working at the power plant and administering temporary staffing contracts for the company. Sanders was terminated from Energy Northwest for improperly approving temporary staffing per diem and travel payments for his grandchild. Sanders objected to his termination pursuant to the whistleblower retaliation provision of the Energy Reorganization Act (“Act”), claiming that his termination was due to his objections to a internal condition report regarding potential safety violations. The district court granted Energy Northwest summary judgment because Sanders failed to establish a prima facie showing of retaliation. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit resolved the issue of whether Sanders’s conduct was protected under the whistleblower retaliation provision of the Act. An employee asserting the whistleblower retaliation provision of the Act must establish the following elements for a prima facie case: (1) the employee was engaged in a protected activity; (2) the employer knew or suspected the employee was engaged in the protected activity; (3) the employee suffered an adverse action; and (4) the surrounding circumstances allude that the protected activity was a contributing factor in the adverse action. The panel upheld the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Energy Northwest because Sanders had no independent knowledge of possible safety violations prior to the creation of the internal condition reports, which Sanders did not create, and Energy Northwest was already aware of the potential safety violations. AFFIRMED.

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