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OSHA whistleblower gets victory from appeals court

Posted at 5:56 PM, Jan 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-14 22:10:31-05

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — A local woman's taking on the state and she just won a big legal battle. It could help her and protect more Nevada workers in the future.

13 Investigates broke the story of this whistleblower who claims the system is stacked against her.

Helen Armstrong worked at a Las Vegas E.N.T clinic where she claims she saw conditions that put both employees and patients at risk; like distribution of expired medicine and contaminated syringes.

Armstrong reported her concerns to the Nevada OSHA office but instead of protecting her she says she was subjected to retaliation and fired. But she got a major victory this week from the 9th Court of Appeals.

"I've been through a lot, you know," says Armstrong. "I've lost a lot. You know, I lost my job. I lost my home. I've lost everything from what they did."

Armstrong claims Nevada OSHA sabotaged her case after an OSHA investigator revealed to her employer that Helen was filing for whistle blower protection.

"You know their mistake, whatever they want to call it, their wrongdoing, I call it, cost me a lot." she explains. "And I lost a lot. And OSHA needs to pay for this."

In 2017 Armstrong filed a lawsuit against Nevada state officials in federal court, but in 2020, her case was dismissed because Nevada is an "at-will" work state. So Helen appealed her case.

"Nevada officials argued that because her... because my client's employment contract said she was an at-will employee, that meant she had no constitutional right to be treated fairly by the government in her whistleblower claim," says Armstrong's attorney Phil Spector. "And the Ninth Circuit rejected that claim. The Ninth Circuit said the whistleblower laws applied fully to at-will employees. And and the Ninth Circuit said to the Nevada state officials, you are not outside the law."

The journey for Armstrong to find due process is going into it's 9th year.

"I am really relieved, actually," says Armstrong. "It is, like I said, it's been a long time coming for this. It's not over yet, but I am grateful that they've seen what I seen and what I wanted people to know."

And the 9th courts ruling on the case could mean protections for whistle blowers in other states.

"It feels amazing, actually. It's unfortunate that I had to go through what I went through to get them to change it. But, you know, moving forward. I'm I'm grateful for it, I really am. And it should have been done a long time ago."

We reached out to the Nevada AG's office as they represented NV OSHA in Armstrong's case, at it was their lawyers who argued her case should be dismissed because Nevada is an "at-will" work state.

They said the AG's office does not comment on pending litigation.

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