The law prohibits an employer from forcing you to participate in illegal activity, and it is illegal for your employer to retaliate against you when you complain about illegal misconduct either within, or outside the company.
If you have suffered a retaliatory firing because you complained to your boss or other supervisor about your company’s illegal or discriminatory business practices, or because you went outside the company and reported business misconduct to a State or Federal law enforcement agency, give us a call – we can help. Talk to Siro Smith Dickson’s whistleblower attorneys about your rights.
Overview of Whistle-blower Claims
Many states have laws that protect employees who “blow the whistle” on illegal activity. For example, you may have a claim if you report violations of the law to a government agency or to your supervisors, or if you refuse to perform an employer’s order that violates the law, and suffer retaliation as a result. The law prohibits employers from retaliating against employees when they engage in certain protected conduct.
You do not necessarily need to be an employee to have a whistleblower claim. There are a number of other statutes that provide whistleblower protections and rewards to current employees, former employees, and residents alike. For example, if you report possible government fraud, mishandling of toxic substances, violations of tax or securities laws, discrimination in education, or failure to provide access to public facilities, whistleblower protection may be available. In some cases, the law may even reward you for blowing the whistle against entities that engage in these types of violations.
Overview of False Claims Act and Qui Tam Lawsuits
The Federal False Claims Act provides individual citizens with the opportunity to play a vital role in deterring and preventing fraud against government programs. In 1863, Congress passed the False Claims Act to battle the massive frauds committed by government contractors during the Civil War. Since then, the False Claims Act has become the most effective whistleblower law used to combat fraud. It creates liability to the United States for “any person who knowingly presents, or causes to be presented, a false or fraudulent claim for payment or approval [or] knowingly makes, uses, or causes to be made or used, a false record or statement material to a false or fraudulent claim.” 31 U.S.C. § 3729(a)(1). Many states also have their own False Claims Act.
Definition of “Qui Tam”:
A False Claims Act lawsuit is often referred to as a “qui tam” lawsuit. “Qui tam” is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase qui tam pro domino rege quam pro se ipso in hac parte sequitur, meaning “[he] who sues in this matter for the king as [well as] for himself.” In other words, someone who brings a qui tam action is bringing the lawsuit on behalf of the government as well as him/herself.
Who Can Start a False Claims Act Lawsuit?
A person/whistleblower (called a “relator”) brings a qui tam action on behalf of the government. Anyone with knowledge of fraud against the government can be a relator. You do not need to be an employee of the person or entity who is engaged in the fraud.
What Types of Fraud Implicate the False Claims Act?
- Fraud against the government can occur in many different industries, including but not limited to the following:
- Healthcare and Pharmaceutical Fraud
- Finance, Banking and Mortgage Fraud
- Education Fraud
- Defense/Military Contractor Fraud
What is a Defendant Liable For Under the False Claims Act?
A defendant found guilty of fraud against the United States government is liable for triple damages (3 times the amount of damages the government sustained because of the fraudulent act), civil penalties and attorneys’ fees and costs. The relator can recover between 15-30% of the amount recouped by the government.
Is the Relator Entitled to Any Retaliation Protection?
The Federal False Claims Act contains a strict anti-retaliation provision prohibiting a defendant from discharging, demoting, suspending, threatening, harassing, or in any other manner discriminating against in the terms and conditions of employment any individual because he or she is involved in, provided testimony for, or assisted with a False Claims Act investigation or action.
General Overview of Retaliation Claims:
Retaliation generally takes the form of a demotion, harassment, transfer, or termination of employment. Even a lateral reassignment can be retaliation if the reassignment impacts your eligibility for promotions or advancement. The Supreme Court has also determined that an employer cannot retaliate by taking action against people who are close to you.
An employer may not retaliate against an employee who engages in conduct protected by law. Protected conduct includes opposing workplace discrimination against you or another employee, assisting an investigation of discrimination, refusing to engage in conduct you believe to be unlawful, asking your employer about your legal rights, taking protected medical leave, requesting accommodations for a disability, associating with other people of a certain race, sex, national origin, or religion, or otherwise exercising your rights under the law.
Employees also have the right to organize without employer retaliation. This right includes the right to join or assist labor unions, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other activities for mutual aid or protection.
If you “blow the whistle” on an employer’s illegal activity, you may also have whistleblower protection. A number of state and Federal statutes include anti-retaliation protection for individuals who report violations of the law. In some cases, the law even rewards individuals who blow the whistle on illegal activity.
Siro Smith Dickson PC represents whistle-blowers and other employees who are retaliated against for engaging in legally protected activity in many cases. If you believe you have a whistleblower claim, or would simply like more information, please contact us.
FEATURED WHISTLEBLOWER OR RETALIATION CASE
Our client was a 19 year employee of the Kansas City Public Schools, with a spotless record serving as the Purchasing Director. During the final year of his employment he was sabotaged and undermined by two new high level officers who did not want to comply with the laws and policies required for public school district purchasing in spite of our client’s insistence that they follow the law. The day before he was fired, our client objected that purchasing 3 Ford Escapes for the high level officers to use as daily driving vehicles would violate state law and district purchasing policies. He was fired the next day for alleged “insubordination.” A Jackson County, Missouri jury found that he was wrongfully terminated in violation of public policy and awarded him $500,000 in damages. Please see the linked news article for more details about this case.
FREE SPEECH RETALIATION AND AGE DISCRIMINATION:
Our client was a hard working, long-serving local government employee. He identified fraudulent conduct involving a higher-level manager and reported that to the City Manager and City Council. Just a few weeks later the City announced it was going to “reduce its force” and about a month later, our client was fired in a reduction of only one person. He was told he could apply for open positions but when he did so, he was rejected. We sued for free speech violations and age discrimination. Discovery proved his claims were well founded and the case was resolved by a settlement payment of more than $250,000 as well as agreement to reinstate our client for a period of time in order to enhance his retirement pension benefits.