Q. What is a Whistleblower?
According to the Government Accountability Project, a whistleblower is: “An employee who discloses information that s/he reasonably believes is evidence of illegality, gross waste or fraud, mismanagement, abuse of power, general wrongdoing, or a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety. When information is classified or otherwise restricted by Congress or Executive Order, disclosures only are protected as whistleblowing if made through designated, secure channels.”
Q. Is a whistleblower protected by the law?
A. Yes. The most commonly used whistleblower law is the False Claims Act (both the federal and various state versions-Arizona does not have a state version) covering whistleblower claims that relate to corporate misconduct or fraud that causes a financial loss to the federal government.
These laws provide financial rewards for whistleblowers who bring claims that are successfully acted upon by the government. They give protection to whistleblowers from retaliation such as firings, demotions or other adverse employment actions for reporting misconduct. Additionally, there are many specific whistleblower legislation that protects employees in particular industries against retaliation for reporting misconduct or fraud in the industry. These whistleblower laws include; consumer finance protection, airline safety, the military, consumer products safety, environmental protection, nuclear safety, food product safety, federal employee protection, employment discrimination, mine safety, transportation safety, pipeline safety, and maritime safety.
Q. How does the process work?
A. If you have uncovered evidence indicating that your employer may be defrauding the federal government, you may have a civil lawsuit under the federal False Claims Act called a “qui tam” action.
Q. What is a Qui Tam Action?
A. The federal law, known as the False Claims Act compensates people, known as whistleblowers, who can bring a lawsuit to recover monies on behalf of the government as a result of fraudulent claims submitted to the government for payment. Qui tam lawsuits have been filed to recover funds for Medicare or Medicaid fraud, fraud committed by defense contractors, fraud perpetrated by educational institutions and other kinds of fraud which have a financial impact on the United States government.
The State of Arizona doesn’t have a False Claims Act, but whistleblowers can take action under the federal False Claims Act. If you believe you have a claim, it’s critical to contact an attorney immediately. All relevant evidence should be reviewed by an experienced attorney to determine if the potential case has merit.
If a decision is made to move forward with a lawsuit, a qui tam action is filed under seal in federal court. The suit is kept a secret from everyone except the government who will be investigating the claims of fraud through the U.S Department of Justice (DOJ) as well as the federal agency who has received and paid possible fraudulent claims. A qui tam lawsuit will remain under seal for 60 days. The timeframe can be extended if further investigation is needed.
Once the preliminary investigation is complete, the government will decide whether or not to join the qui tam lawsuit. While this does not happen often, but the chances of success increase substantially if the government decides to intervene. During the time frame, the relator and their lawyer will work to convince officials that their case has merit and will result in financial recovery. If the government does not decide to step in, the relator can continue independently.
Q. What’s a Relator?
A. The Plaintiff in a whistleblower case is called the “Relator.” The Relator file the civil complaint along with a Relator’s Disclosure Statement which states the factual and legal support for the claim. The Complaint and Relator’s Disclosure Statement are then served on, or provided to, the United States.
Q. Can I be compensated?
A. Possibly, yes.
The financial rewards in qui tam lawsuits can be enormous. If a defendant is found to be liable under the federal False Claims Act, it will have to pay for the government’s losses, plus penalties for each false claim. If the government has joined a qui tam lawsuit and they can recover funds via a settlement or trial, the relator is entitled to 15 to 20 percent of the recovery.
The Department of Justice obtained more than $4.7 billion in settlements and judgments from civil cases involving fraud and false claims against the government in the fiscal year 2016. As a relator, you will be helping to expose government fraud and abuse, which costs everyone money.
Some Examples of Whistleblower Cases:
Whistleblower cases may come in many different forms.
- Recently, there has been extensive whistleblower litigation against pharmaceutical companies, based on illegal “off-label” promotion of usually patented medications.
- A healthcare provider network settled a whistleblower case in which doctors were ordering unnecessary tests and billing Medicare for the tests.
- A cell phone provider who contracted to provide cell service to the U.S. government settled a whistleblower suit where it was alleged it had overcharged U.S. agencies by at least $100 million.
- Another example of a type of whistleblower case is banking specifically in the context of a national bank defrauding the government and its government-backed mortgage finance companies.
Q. What does a Whistleblower Attorney do?
A. It’s advisable to have an experienced whistleblower attorney by your side during the process. There are many paths to be navigated and legal procedures that must be adhered to. A whistleblower attorney can guide you and help you take advantage of the many protections offered to whistleblowers. Most whistleblower attorneys work on a contingency basis, meaning they will be paid out of any financial recovery that may be obtained by the government. Most likely, you won’t have any upfront costs with your whistleblower attorney. Whistleblowers can get monetary rewards of up to thirty percent of any government recovery.
- Mark Felt-In the Watergate scandal of the 70’s, this FBI figure was the secret informant known as “Deep Throat” who helped Washington Post reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein
- Daniel Ellsberg
- Linda Tripp
- Frank Serpico
- Karen Silkwood
- Erin Brockovich
- Mark Whitacre
- Jeffrey Wigand
- Coleen Rowley
How can the Leader Law Firm assist with qui tam actions?
If you work for a large company or organization and are aware of such practices or if your employer terminated you for refusing to participate in what you see is illegal activity, you can contact the Leader Law Firm for a free, confidential consultation. We will listen, answer your questions and help you make an informed decision about taking legal action.