(Sept. 8, 2016) On June 30, 2016 the Cour de Cassation (France’s Supreme Court for civil and criminal matters) ruled that the dismissal of whistleblowers is illegal. (Arrêt n° 1309 du 30 juin 2016 (15-10.557) [Judgment No. 1309 of June 30, 2016 (15-10557)] COUR DE CASSATION – CHAMBRE SOCIALE – ECLI:FR:CCASS:2016:SO01309, Cour de Cassation website.)
The Cour de Cassation overturned a ruling by the Court of Appeals in Basse-Terre, the French overseas département of Guadeloupe, which had refused to annul the dismissal for serious misconduct of an employee who had denounced his employer to the authorities. (Renaud Lecadre, La Cour de cassation juge illicite le licenciement des lanceurs d’alerte [The Supreme Court Judges the Dismissal of Whistleblowers Illegal], LIBÉRATION (June 30, 2016); La Cour de cassation juge illicite le licenciement des lanceurs d’alerte, LE MONDE (June 30, 2016).)
In line with decisions of the European Court of Human Rights and with its own jurisprudence, the Social Chamber of the Cour de Cassation said that
because it undermines freedom of expression, in particular the right of employees to report illegal conduct or illegal acts noted by them in their workplace, the dismissal of an employee for having reported or testified in good faith facts of which he has knowledge in the exercise of his functions and which, if established, would be likely to be characterized as criminal offenses, is invalid. (Protection des lanceurs d’alerte (30.06.16) [Protection of Whistleblowers (06.30.16)], Cour de Cassation website.)
According to an explanatory note by the Cour de Cassation, “such a decision is likely to protect whistleblowers, to the extent that the social chamber establishes immunity not only when the wrongful acts are brought to the attention of the Republic’s prosecutor but also, more generally, when they are reported to third parties.” (Id.)
The Cour de Cassation referred the case to a different composition of the Court of Appeals in Basse-Terre for retrial. (Lanceurs d’alerte: la Cour de cassation juge illicite leur licenciement [Whistleblowers: The Supreme Court Judges Their Dismissal Unlawful], LE PARISIEN (June 30, 2016).)
This case involved an employee hired as the chief financial officer of an association that manages a health examination center within the public health system in Guadeloupe. He was dismissed in March 2011 for gross misconduct, after informing the Republic’s prosecutor of potential fraud and embezzlement by the president and a director of the association. The Court of Appeals in Basse-Terre had refused to reverse the employee’s dismissal, arguing it lacked authority to impose such a remedy. (Protection des lanceurs d’alerte (30.06.16), supra.)
Prepared by Ricardo Wicker, Law Library Intern, under the supervision of Nicolas Boring, Foreign Law Specialist.