Court Upholds Firing of Custodian for Warning of Asbestos in School

February 23, 2011

A federal appeals court on Feb. 9, 2011, upheld the firing of a New York school custodian who was fired for not being silent about asbestos which could have threatened the health and safety of students.

The asbestos came to the attention of Norman Morey, head custodian at Somers Central High School in 2003, when a chunk fell from the gymnasium ceiling onto the floor and he was asked to clean it up. Morey warned school authorities that he feared it could be asbestos. They told him to put tape over it and to drop the subject. Morey did not disclose the problem publicly, but continued to warn school administrators about the possible health threat. He claims that they fired him for insisting that it needed attention.

Morey objected to the firing, claiming it violated whistleblower protection law. A federal district court rejected Morey's complaint in March 2010, citing a 2006 US Supreme Court ruling that statements made in the course of an employee's job duties do not qualify for either free-speech or whistleblower protections. The US Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision.