Does Pa. Law Protect Nonprofit Whistleblowers?

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April 11, 2012; Source: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

There’s some dissensus about how much nonprofit whistleblowers are protected by federal statutes. That makes the appearance of nonprofit whistleblowers interesting. In Pittsburgh, Julie C. Matthews, a former employee of the Hill House Association and the Hill House Economic Development Corporation has charged that the nonprofits’ “accounting and financial policies were violating state and federal laws.” She said that she was instructed to inflate accounting balances and that money earmarked for a grocery store development was used for “non-restricted purposes.” She alleges that she had been told by Hill House’s executive committee to prepare a memo about the financial abuses, but was fired the day before she was scheduled to present her findings. Matthews’ lawyer says that his client was never provided with a reason for her dismissal by the board.

Hill House denies the allegations “strenuously,” asserting that no grant funds were misused. The organization says that the Shop ‘n Save grocery store project had been delayed, but no funds were misappropriated. On paper, the Hill House grocery is an interesting looking partnership, involving funding from the city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority ($1 million), the Reinvestment Fund in Philadelphia ($1 million), the Richard King Mellon Foundation ($525,000), and the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team ($1 million).

The whistleblower claims to be protected by Pennsylvania’s state whistleblower statute, which the Tribune-Review says “prohibits employers from firing someone for reporting or attempting to report waste or fraud to the employer or a public body.” Does the Pennsylvania law protect nonprofit whistleblowers, or is this complainant protected in part because the funds in question are public subsidies? NPQ will try to watch the evolution of this case. –Rick Cohen