Appeals court dismisses whistle-blower’s claim

Thursday, February 12, 1998

A federal appeals court has dismissed the First Amendment claim of an ex-radiation technician at the University of Cincinnati who sued two school officials, claiming they fired him for speaking out about safety issues.

Raymond Estes contended he was fired in 1992 for frequently complaining about radiation and safety concerns over the years. The two officials countered that Estes was fired for insubordination and incompetence.

According to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals' opinion issued Wednesday, Estes began working at the university as a radiation technician in 1985. While performing his job of checking for unsafe radiation levels, Estes “frequently complained about radiation risks” on campus.

Because of the complaints, in 1989 the Nuclear Regulatory Commission investigated the university and found several violations.

In 1990, Estes found a radioactive box on campus and, in violation of work rules, went to the news media instead of his supervisors. Later, Estes refused to answer questions from his boss about the incident and failed to file a written report on the matter.

Estes asserted in his lawsuit that he was fired because he spoke out on matters of obvious public concern: safety issues.

However, the appeals court noted that in addition to his whistle-blowing activities, “Estes compiled a poor work record.”

The court ruled in Estes v. Morris that “regardless of protected speech, insubordination justifies discharge.” The court concluded: “The district court also correctly held that [Victoria] Morris would have fired Estes solely because of his insubordination.”