Wisconsin Supreme Court Rules that Unpaid Health Care Interns are Not Entitled to Whistleblower Protection

whistleblowerBy: Thomas L. Skalmoski  Wisconsin’s Health Care Worker Protection Act, Wis. Stat. § 146.997, prohibits certain health care employers from taking disciplinary action against any person who in good faith reports violations of state law, federal law or certain clinical or ethical standards.  Although the Act prohibits disciplinary action against “any person,” there are other provisions in the Act that suggest that only “employees” are protected. In Masri v. State of Wisconsin Labor and Industry Review Commission and Medical College of Wisconsin, Inc., decided on July 22, 2014, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin decided that health care workers who are unpaid interns are not entitled to the protections of the Act. Despite recognizing the “importance of internships and the often mutually beneficiary relationship between interns and their supervising entity,” the court held that the Act only applies to “employees” and that unpaid interns are not “employees” entitled to whistleblower protection.

Asma Masri was a doctoral student at UWM and an unpaid “Psychologist Intern” at the Medical College of Wisconsin.  Masri reported “clinical/ethical” concerns to an administrator.  About five days later, the Medical College ended Masri’s internship.  Masri filed a complaint with the Department of Workforce Development alleging that she was protected by the Act and had suffered disciplinary action of the type prohibited by the Act. Continue reading

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