by Max Brantley
The Blog reported last year on the case of Bob Means, who sued over his firing from counseling work at the Hot Springs Rehabilitation Center. He testified he was fired on the order of state Career Education Department Director Bill Walker, communicated though Robert Trevino, then head of state Rehabilitation Services.
Means was awarded $110,000 — and his attorney, Scott Hickam, should be in line for hefty legal fees — because of the finding he was fired for complaining to state and federal employees about services provided at the center for someone who wasn't eligible. Means contended the client continued to receive food, housing and other services as a a political favor.
Today, the Arkansas Supreme Court upheld the Garland County Circuit Court ruling in Mean's favor.
The court rejected the argument that Means was not a public employee entitled to whistleblower protection because he worked as an independent contractor. He did part-time work for public money in return for work at a public agency, the court noted. The state also argued that Means had not notified an "appropriate authority," though he'd reported waste to his immediate supervisor, a state senator and the governor's office, plus a federal inspector. The state said Means should have gone to the state auditor, Ethics Commission, prosecutor or director of the agency. It would be an "absurd result" to say a report to a direct supervisor was insufficient, the court said.