In Court Brief, ACLU Says Rhode Island Officials Retaliated Against Environmental Whistleblower

July 19, 2001 12:00 am

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Rhode Island ACLU
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Thursday, July 19, 2001

PROVIDENCE, RI – – In a case raising important questions as to whether the state is above federal law, the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island today filed a friend-of-the-court brief saying that the federal government has the right to investigate claims that state officials are violating the law.

“”At bottom, the issue in this case is a simple one,”” said Steven Brown, Executive Director of the ACLU of Rhode Island. “”Should state officials be able to violate federal law without any accountability to private citizens or to the federal agencies designed to enforce those laws? The answer should be just as simple — absolutely not.””

A few years ago, Beverly Migliore, an employee of Rhode Island’s Department of Environmental Management (DEM) filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor, alleging that DEM had violated federal environmental protection laws. She soon filed another complaint, alleging that she had been retaliated against by DEM for filing her initial complaint.

After lengthy hearings, a judge for the Department of Labor agreed that Migliore had been retaliated against and affixed monetary awards for her complaints.

In response, the state filed a lawsuit in federal court, arguing that the Department of Labor’s review of Migliore’s claims violated the state’s “”sovereign immunity.”” The state then sought, and was granted, a court order barring any further investigation or prosecution of her claims.

Ms. Migliore and the Department of Labor are now appealing the decision.

In its legal brief, the ACLU asks the court to dismiss the state’s lawsuit. The brief argues that it is vital that citizens be able to inform federal agencies of violations of the law and to petition the government for protection under federal law. The brief also points out that the lower court’s decision severely impacts the ability of state employees to exercise their First Amendment rights.

“”As it stands, the lower court’s decision says that states are not only immune from judicial action brought by private citizens but also from the efforts of citizens to get the Executive Branch of the government to enforce the law,”” said Jonathan Gutoff, the ACLU volunteer attorney who filed the brief. “”It is shameful that rather than attempt to fight Ms. Migliore’s claims on the merits, the state is instead seeking to hold itself above the law.””

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