Beck v. Belezza et al.

Robert A. Beck II was working for the Southern Insurance Group (“SIG”) when he found reason to believe that senior officer and director Ronald M. Prupis was operating in breach of contract regulations. Subsequent to his discovery and reporting of the issue, Beck was fired from his position. Beck insisted that this was a retaliatory response to the discoveries and sued Prupis under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (“RICO”) Act. Beck argued that his injury, in the form of job loss, proved Pruris’s conspiracy thus providing a claim under RICO. The District Court dismissed Beck’s claim, arguing that employees who fail to abide by RICO actions or threaten to report RICO violations do not have standing to sue for job loss.

This case forced the Supreme Court to consider whether somebody affected by an act furthering conspiracy can sue under RICO, even if the direct action itself was not racketeering.

The National Whistleblower Center (“NWC”) filed an amicus brief in support of Beck. In its brief, the NWC points out that the language of the RICO Act explicitly states that the Act protects anyone who has been victimized for disclosing or opposing racketeering. The brief references precedent to remind the Court that as long as the plain meaning of the statue does not lead to an absurd or impracticable result, the plain meaning must be followed. Moreover, the brief argues that job loss, as a form of victimization, does constitute an injury to someone’s property, as per the language of the law. The brief stresses that by siding with Beck, the court would not be creating a panacea for all employment discharge cases; but rather, it would allow redress for cases which meet the strict specificity requirements under RICO. The NWC brief explains how the specificity required in pleadings and the level of proof necessary to meet RICO requirements will limit the number of cases for adjudication to only those fostering Congress’ intent to eradicate illegal racketeering.

The Supreme Court overlooked it’s duty to protect whistleblowers in a 7-2 decision to rule in favor of Prupis. The Court held that RICO does not protect against termination as a result of actions which do not directly demonstrate racketeering. The full Supreme Court decision can be accessed here. Yet the dissenting opinion of Justices Souter and Stevens do offer hope for whistleblowers rights. Scouter and Stevens argue that the plain language of RICO suggests that Beck was in fact entitled to his claim. While the determination in Beck V. Prupis did not fall in favor of whistleblower protections, Scouter and Stevens suggest that hope is on the horizon for whistleblower protections.

The NWC is a non-partisan nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection of employees who work to expose the truth and report misconduct in the workplace. In both the public and private sector, the NWC assists employee whistleblowers who have been discriminated against for reporting violations of law and public safety. Learn more about NWC’s work defending whistleblower laws here.

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