The tension in the Palmer case

The American notion of self-reliance is often used as a launching pad for mayhem and moral ambiguity in movies. In real life, we rely on our laws and our courts and own moral anchors to keep chaos out of the picture. When those checks fail, as they did in the case of Jay Palmer, then we got problems.

U.S. District Court Judge Myron Thompson’s dismissal Monday of Palmer’s case, a federal whistleblower, leaves a lot of questions.   

Thompson was seemingly sympathetic of Palmer. He called the alleged email and telephone threats “deeply troubling” in one place and “deeply disturbing” in another.

Thompson went so far as to list the alleged incidents in his written opinion. But then he concluded that there was nothing he could do about the “deeply troubling” and “deeply disturbing” allegations under Alabama law, the state where this case was heard.

I don’t know whether Alabama law is strange, or Judge Thompson’s interpretation of that law is wrong. But something isn’t right here.

Thompson wrote that Alabama’s “at will” employment law means that an employee, absent a contract, "may be demoted, denied a promotion, or otherwise adversely treated for any reason, good or bad, or even for no reason at all.”

Thompson doesn’t appear to be a fan of Alabama law. He wrote that "an argument could be made that such threats against whistleblowers, in particular, should be illegal."

Palmer’s case came about because he alleged that Infosys is using visas illegally in it offshore outsourcing work. He’s a federal whistleblower and the U.S. is investigating his claims.

Thompson could have gone a different way. He wasn’t locked into an interpretation of Alabama state law that left Palmer without the possibility of presenting his case.

Perhaps Palmer takes some solace in the fact that the judge was moved enough by his complaint to cite some its claims as “deeply troubling” and “deeply disturbing.”  But that doesn’t change anything, because his final message was straight-up harsh.

And that message is this: There is no law in Alabama that protects a man or woman who becomes a whistleblower.  You’re on your own.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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