Former State Senator Joe Dunn and State Bar Battle Over His Firing

Jessica Linehan
Partner at the international law firm Dorsey & Whitney in its California office. Her practice focuses on employment litigation.

Whistleblower and retaliation claims can get very personal very quickly, because such claims often put the whistleblowing employee’s performance under close scrutiny.   In pursuing his whistleblower and retaliation claims, which former state senator and fired executive director of the State Bar of California Joseph Dunn brought under California’s Labor Code section 1102.5, Dunn must show that there is causal link between his protected activity and his termination.

The closeness in time between the protected activity and the termination can be a factor supporting whistleblower and retaliation claims.   In contrast, to defend its actions, the State Bar of California will likely seek to show that Dunn’s termination was justified for legitimate reasons, unrelated to any protected activity.  While the State Bar of California has not yet commented on the reasons for Dunn’s removal from the Executive Director position, time will tell whether its defense of this decision takes the form of a critique of Dunn’s performance as Executive Director.  Dunn’s lawsuit, filed by Geragos & Geragos, attempts to forestall such attacks on Dunn’s job performance by highlighting his “glowing” performance reviews, yearly bonuses and alleged successes in bringing important reforms to the State Bar.

Dunn’s lawsuit notes that he served as Executive Director of the State Bar under an employment agreement for a three year term, which was renewed in 2013.   Dunn claims to have been terminated without cause just one year into his new three-year term.   Dunn’s lawsuit also claims that the State Bar President, whom Dunn targets in his lawsuit filed with the Superior Court of California, instructed Dunn not to speak to the press or the public if he wanted to negotiate a severance agreement.  It appears to date that Dunn has not yet spoken to the press on this issue.  His lawsuit, however, attempts to send a loud message.

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