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Justice Department Recovers over $3 Billion from False Claims Act Cases in Fiscal Year 2019

Justice department logo

The United States Justice Department recently published the below article. See a portion below: 

The Department of Justice obtained more than $3 billion in settlements and judgments from civil cases involving fraud and false claims against the government in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2019, Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division announced today.  Recoveries since 1986, when Congress substantially strengthened the civil False Claims Act, now total more than $62 billion.

“The significant number of settlements and judgments obtained over the past year demonstrate the high priority this administration places on deterring fraud against the government and ensuring that citizens’ tax dollars are well spent,” said Assistant Attorney General Hunt.  “The continued success of the department’s False Claims Act enforcement efforts are a testament to the tireless efforts of the civil servants who investigate, litigate, and try these important cases as well as to the fortitude of whistleblowers who report fraud.”

Of the more than $3 billion in settlements and judgments recovered by the Department of Justice this past fiscal year, $2.6 billion relates to matters that involved the health care industry, including drug and medical device manufacturers, managed care providers, hospitals, pharmacies, hospice organizations, laboratories, and physicians.  This is the tenth consecutive year that the department’s civil health care fraud settlements and judgments have exceeded $2 billion.  The amounts included in the $2.6 billion reflect only federal losses, but in many of these cases the department was instrumental in recovering additional millions of dollars for state Medicaid programs.

In addition to combating health care fraud, the False Claims Act serves as the government’s primary civil tool to redress false claims for federal funds and property involving a multitude of other government operations and functions.  The Act helps to protect our military and first responders by ensuring that government contractors provide equipment that is safe, effective, and cost efficient; to protect American businesses and workers by promoting compliance with customs laws, trade agreements, visa requirements, and small business protections; and to protect other critical government programs ranging from the provision of disaster relief funds to farming subsidies.

In 1986, Congress strengthened the Act by increasing incentives for whistleblowers to file lawsuits alleging false claims on behalf of the government.  These whistleblower, or qui tam, actions comprise a significant percentage of the False Claims Act cases that are filed.  If the government prevails in a qui tam action, the whistleblower, also known as the relator, typically receives a portion of the recovery ranging between 15 and 30 percent.  Whistleblowers filed 633 qui tam suits in fiscal year 2019, and this past year the department recovered over $2.1 billion in these and earlier filed suits.

Health Care Fraud

The department investigates and resolves matters involving a wide array of health care providers, goods, and services.  The department’s health care fraud enforcement efforts not only recover money for federal health care programs, such as Medicare, Medicaid, and TRICARE, but also help deter fraud schemes that put patients at risk and increase health care costs.

Reflecting the department’s commitment to holding drug companies accountable for their role in the opioid crisis, two of the largest recoveries involving the health care industry this past year came from opioid manufacturers.  In one matter, as part of a global resolution of criminal and civil claims, Insys Therapeutics paid $195 million to settle civil allegations that it paid kickbacks to induce physicians and nurse practitioners to prescribe Subsys for their patients.  The kickbacks allegedly took the form of sham speaker events, jobs for the prescribers’ relatives and friends, and lavish meals and entertainment.  The government also alleged that Insys improperly encouraged physicians to prescribe Subsys for patients who did not have cancer, and lied to insurers about patients’ diagnoses to ensure payment by federal healthcare programs.  In another matter, Reckitt Benckiser Group plc paid a total of $1.4 billion to resolve criminal and civil liability related to the marketing of the opioid addiction treatment drug Suboxone, which is a formulation of the opioid buprenorphine.  As part of the resolution, RB Group paid $500 million to the United States to resolve civil allegations that it directly or through subsidiaries promoted Suboxone to physicians who were writing prescriptions for uses that were unsafe, ineffective, and medically unnecessary; promoted Suboxone Film using false and misleading claims that it was less susceptible to diversion, abuse, and accidental pediatric exposure than other buprenorphine products; and took steps to delay the entry of generic competition in order to improperly control pricing of Suboxone.

The department also pursued other cases involving drug manufacturers.  For example, Avanir Pharmaceuticals paid over $95 million to resolve allegations that it paid kickbacks and engaged in false and misleading marketing to induce healthcare providers in long term care facilities to prescribe the drug Neudexta for behaviors commonly associated with dementia patients, which is not an approved use of the drug.  The department also continued to investigate efforts by drug manufacturers to facilitate increases in drug prices by funding the co-payments of Medicare patients.  Congress included co-pay requirements in the Medicare program, in part, to serve as a check on health care costs, including the prices that pharmaceutical manufacturers can demand for their drugs.  This year, seven drug manufacturers – Actelion Pharmaceuticals US Inc., Amgen Inc., Astellas Pharma US Inc.Alexion Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Jazz Pharmacueticals Inc., Lundbeck LLC, and US Worldmeds LLC – paid a combined total of over $624 million to resolve claims that they illegally paid patient copays for their own drugs through purportedly independent foundations that the companies in fact treated as mere conduits.

The department also reported substantial recoveries involving a variety of other healthcare providers.  Pathology laboratory company Inform Diagnostics, formerly known as Miraca Life Sciences Inc., paid $63.5 million to resolve allegations that it paid kickbacks to referring physicians in the form of subsidies for electronic health records (EHR) systems and free or discounted technology consulting services.  Greenway Health LLC, an EHR software vendor, paid over $57 million to resolve allegations that it misrepresented the capabilities of its EHR product “Prime Suite” and provided unlawful remuneration to users to induce them to recommend Prime Suite to prospective new customers.  Encompass Health Corporation (formerly known as HealthSouth Corporation), the nation’s largest operator of inpatient rehabilitation facilities (IRFs), paid $48 million to resolve allegations that some of its IRFs provided inaccurate information to Medicare to maintain their status as an IRF and to earn a higher rate of reimbursement, and that some admissions to its IRFs were not medically necessary.

Recoveries in Whistleblower Suits

Of the $3 billion in settlements and judgments reported by the government in fiscal year 2019, over $2.1 billion arose from lawsuits filed under the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act.  During the same period, the government paid out $265 million to the individuals who exposed fraud and false claims by filing these actions.

The number of lawsuits filed under the qui tam provisions of the Act has grown significantly since 1986, with 633 qui tam suits filed this past year – an average of more than 12 new cases every week.

“Whistleblowers continue to play a critical role identifying new and evolving fraud schemes that might otherwise remain undetected,” said Assistant Attorney General Hunt.  “Taxpayers have benefitted greatly from these individuals who are often required to make substantial sacrifices to bring these schemes to light.”

In 1986, Senator Charles Grassley and Representative Howard Berman led the successful efforts in Congress to amend the False Claims Act to, among other things, encourage whistleblowers to come forward with allegations of fraud.  In 2009 and 2010, further improvements were made to the False Claims Act and its whistleblower provisions.  Congress also included in the False Claims Act authority for the government to dismiss cases that do not advance the goal of fraud prevention, and during the past year the government made increasing use of this tool to help prioritize and protect the expenditure of government resources.

Finally, Assistant Attorney General Hunt expressed appreciation for the many dedicated public servants throughout the department’s Civil Division and the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, as well as the agency Offices of Inspector General and the many other federal and state agencies that contributed to the department’s False Claims Act recoveries this past fiscal year.

“The accomplishments announced today reflect the extraordinary efforts of the men and women throughout the government committed to protecting the federal fisc and the integrity of the government’s programs,” said Assistant Attorney General Hunt.  “Having served many years in the Civil Division, I have witnessed the passion and dedication of the talented employees who have committed their careers to serving the American people and defending the interests of our great nation.”

 

Whistleblowerlaw.com & Mike Bothwell Lawfirm does not claim or imply ownership of this article. Full article link here: https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/justice-department-recovers-over-3-billion-false-claims-act-cases-fiscal-year-2019

Judge v. Jury: $350 Million Medicare Award at Stake in Atlanta

Whistleblower attorney Mike Bothwell was a tops quoted source in the article below:

Full Article Link

The invalidation of a Florida jury’s nearly $350 million Medicare fraud verdict wasn’t only frustrating for whistleblower Angela Ruckh and her attorneys. It may have also seriously hurt plaintiffs’ ability to fight alleged fraud in the southeast U.S.

Ruckh Nov. 20 will urge the Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta to reinstate the award, which a district judge tossed after concluding she failed to satisfy U.S. Supreme Court standards for demonstrating materiality in a False Claims Act case. The federal government is supporting her appeal.

The judge misconstrued ample evidence of materiality, Ruckh says. Rejecting her appeal could do great harm to the ability of FCA whistleblowers and the federal government to raise a valid case, whistleblower attorneys say.

The decision by Judge Steven Merryday of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida “takes the most conservative and defense-oriented” view of Supreme Court standards for raising false claims cases, said Mike Bothwell of Bothwell Law Group P.C. in Roswell, Ga.

Prosecution of FCA cases will become “infinitely harder” if the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirms, he said.

In 2018, the U.S. recovered $2.8 billion from FCA cases, $2.5 billion of which came from cases involving the healthcare industry.

Ruckh convinced a jury in February 2017 that Medicare wouldn’t have paid Consulate Health Care, a nursing home services provider, if Medicare knew the truth about the Consulate’s practice of “ramping,” which misleads Medicare as to the necessity of services, and “upcoding” for services which led to overbilling.

Merryday tossed the verdict nine months later, ruling that the alleged misconduct wasn’t material to government payment decisions under the Supreme Court’s 2016 ruling in Universal Health Servs., Inc. v. United States ex rel. Escobar.

That is, Ruckh didn’t offer meaningful proof that Medicare’s knowledge of the disputed practices was consequential to payment decisions, Merryday concluded.

Medicare knew about the allegations and continued to pay anyway, he said.

“We don’t want every administrative failure by a contractor to be an FCA case, but when you have facts like these, where folks are receiving unnecessary services, how is that not leading to inflated, unnecessary claims,” said Pamela Coyle Brecht of Pietragallo Gordon Alfano Bosick & Raspanti LLP in Philadelphia.

“Medicare has a pay and chase system. The U.S. doesn’t examine every claim in real time. It is entitled to rely on the truthfulness of a claim submitted by a contractor, and then attempt to recoup fraudulent payments at a later date,” she said.

“It undermines the entire purpose of the FCA to say that payments to a contractor, that turn out to be fraudulent, require dismissal of cases for lack of materiality,” she said.

Consulate says materiality was indeed lacking because Ruckh offered no evidence that Medicare had overlooked any alleged deficiencies in audits before deciding to continue paying.

“If the government thought the alleged violations were material, why would they keep paying the claims? There are a host of cases now where the government ‘knowledge’ defense has been successfully raised,” said Aaron Danzig of Arnall Golden Gregory LLP in Atlanta.

‘Wild, Wild West’

The verdict should be reinstated because Ruckh introduced more than enough evidence to show that higher therapy levels lead to increased payments, and using false therapy codes has a natural tendency to influence payments, her brief says.

The U.S. Justice Department supports Ruckh, stating in a brief that materiality for her claims is “obvious,” and that “it is difficult to see how any reasonable jury could have concluded otherwise.”

Brecht said it’s “currently the wild, wild west with regard to the materiality defense, and I would hope that the Supreme Court would shed more light on this issue.”

“There are many reasons why the government would continue to pay a contractor that don’t have to do with excusing fraud,” Brecht said.

More litigation will result if the Eleventh Circuit affirms, “because whistleblowers will be forced to get more aggressive in discovery,” Brecht said. “They will be forced to say I need to know more about what the government knew about defendants’ practices and when it knew it.”

Defendants naturally will be pleased if Merryday’s ruling is affirmed.

But in the event the Eleventh Circuit sides with Ruckh, the silver lining for defendants could come in the form of another materiality case working its way back to the high court’s door.

Several defendants since Escobar have unsuccessfully petitioned the Supreme Court to adopt a clear “no harm, no foul” rule with regard to continued payments. There can’t be any fraud if the government knows but pays, the petitions have argued.

Merryday’s opinion cited one of those continued payment cases, United States ex rel. Harman v. Trinity Indus. Inc.

The Fifth Circuit ruled in that case that a $663 million jury verdict couldn’t stand because the Federal Highway Administration always paid for and approved of a highway guardrail contractor’s product despite knowledge of alleged wrongdoing.

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Seiden in Washington at dseiden@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bloomberglaw.com; Patrick L. Gregory at pgregory@bloomberglaw.com

Whistleblowerlaw.com & Mike Bothwell Lawfirm does not claim or imply ownership of this article. Full article link here: https://news.bloomberglaw.com/federal-contracting/judge-v-jury-350-million-medicare-award-at-stake-in-atlanta

Trump & our thoughts on why we should protect Whistleblowers

USA Today recently published the following article “Trump’s allies want to ID the whistleblower, who may learn the price of speaking out“.

Here are our my thoughts.

Shortly after signing the Declaration of Independence, the Continental Congress passed a resolution for whistleblower protection.  Some sailor and marines blew the whistle on a commander of the navy during the war with Great Britain.  They reported the problems to the Continental Congress and were prosecuted for it.  The Continental Congress not only passed the resolution supporting blowing the whistle on such abuse (calling it a “duty”), but it passed a subsequent resolution to pay the costs of their defense.

Another major whistleblower legislation was passed in 1863 during the Civil War.  The False Claims Act also known as the Lincoln Law allowed private citizens to sue on behalf of the government to recover for false claims and fraud against the government.  This law was significantly revised in 1985 and has become the government’s number one tool for prosecuting fraud against the United States.  Whistleblowers recover from 15% to 30% of what the government receives and cases under the False Claims Act have brought in $60 billion since it was revamped in 1985.

Various state and federal agencies have passed whistleblower protections and evinced a consensus that whistleblowers play a crucial role in ferreting out fraud, waste, and abuse in our system.  In 1985, when Congress was considering one of the oldest and most robust whistleblower statutes (the False Claims Act), it noted that the act was underutilized in large part because of fear of retaliation.  That is perhaps the number one deterrent to people shinning a light on corruption and illicit dealings.  From July 30, 1778 to the present, America has agreed to protect people who are willing to bring bad things to light.

We absolutely need to continue this protection. I’m fighting for this daily.

Can You Rely on Federal Whistleblower Protection?

Many laws provide federal whistleblower protection for people who report illegal activity.

Federal Whistleblower ProtectionWhistleblowers assume a lot of risk by coming forward. Lives can change overnight. While attempting to right something legally wrong, the whistleblower faces the possibility of retaliation by those who would prefer that things stay the way they are. That’s where the concept of federal whistleblower protection comes into the picture.

Are there federal protections for whistleblowers? What kinds of protections exist? If someone takes action against a whistleblower, what are the repercussions? Here are some answers to those questions.

Whistleblowers and the False Claims Act

The False Claim Act (FCA) is one that impacts whistleblowing and provides some degree of protection for those who come forward. It can be tempting to focus on potential compensation for revealing and cooperating in investigations related to illegal activity, there’s another side to consider.

The FCA imposes penalties and possibly jail time for those who seek to interfere with an investigation into fraud. Attempting to compromise a whistleblower with the use of intimidation or other means could be interference. In this scenario, the authorities would bring charges against the party attempting the intimidation. The result is protecting the investigation’s integrity while also protecting the whistleblower from threats.

The Provisions Found in OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program

One of the more comprehensive examples of whistleblower protection on a federal level lies within the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Whistleblower protection programs. Some examples of the program provisions include:

  • Preventing an employer from firing an employee who has filed a complaint. The clauses within the programs relate to the original complaint as well as any complaints about threats related to the continued employment.
  • Transferring the employee to a position with less pay or otherwise taking actions to reduce the employee’s benefits. Sometimes used as a strategy to get the employee to resign, the protections from this type of activity help to ensure the whistleblower can continue to earn an equitable living.
  • In the case of hourly employees, reducing the number of assigned hours per pay period. Again, this provision helps to ensure the whistleblower does not find oneself in a difficult financial position because of coming forward.

All told, there are more than 22 different laws related to various industries that protect whistleblowers. From employees in mining operations to health care facilities to manufacturing plants, one or more of those laws are likely to apply.

Timely filing of complaints is essential with each of those laws. Within the terms and conditions found in each law, there is a specific number of days in which to file. Some laws or acts allow only 30 days to file a complaint. Others allow as long as 180 days. An attorney who is familiar with the laws that apply can advise the client of the number of days left before a filing becomes impossible.

The Protection Applies to Private as Well as Public Company Employees

In times past, there was some difference of opinion about whether whistleblowing protections applied only to employees of public companies. The US Supreme Court settled the question in 2014 in the case of Lawson v. FMR LLC. The ruling was that current whistleblowing laws apply to employees working for private contractors and subcontractors of public companies as well as personnel in the employ of those public companies.

Protections for Employees of Governmental Agencies

Whistleblower protections are not limited to people who work for companies or non-profit organizations. They also extend to government employees. The Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 includes these protections.

As with laws protecting other types of employees, the WPA prevents a whistleblower from demotion or termination because of the decision to report the alleged illegal activity. It is not legal to reduce the pay of that employee for the duration of the investigation or any subsequent legal action taken. The employer cannot replace the employee during this period. Illness is the only exception. Even then, the employee may resume his or her position after the illness passes.

The Relationship between Federal and State Whistleblowing Laws

Some states have passed laws related to whistleblowing and protections extended to whistleblowers. New York is a good example. When there are state laws that apply to a given situation, those laws must be in harmony with federal laws. Whistleblower attorneys are aware of any state laws that exist. They also know how those state laws relate to federal laws, and which ones do have some bearing on the rights of the whistleblower.

Do you have evidence of fraud or illegal activity within an organization? Contact the skilled federal whistleblower protection attorneys at the Bothwell Law Group by calling 770.643.1606 today.

Understanding the Role of the Pharmaceutical Whistleblower

Whether within the company or outside the organization, the pharmaceutical whistleblower is a powerful legal resource.

pharmaceutical whistleblowerWhistleblowing is a term that describes people who become aware of activities within an organization or entity that are legally questionable. They don’t pretend they know nothing. Instead, the whistleblower chooses to reveal the activity. As in any industry, the actions of a pharmaceutical whistleblower have the potential to trigger changes for the better. Here are some basics that you should understand about whistleblowing and the possible outcomes.

Two Kinds of Whistleblowers

There are generally two distinct types of whistleblowing. Understanding how the two are similar and how they are different is important. It’s easier to see how the role of a whistleblower within the pharmaceutical industry aids in stopping the abuse.

  • Internal whistleblower: The whistleblower has a connection to the organization. This could be an employee, an officer, or a shareholder. The internal whistleblower shares the information with one or more people within the organization. Those people would be figures with authority to take action.
  • External whistleblower: External whistleblowers reveal the activity to someone outside the company. That entity may be a law enforcement agency that has jurisdiction. It could also be a governmental agency that has oversight of the organization in some manner. Furthermore, the whistleblower may choose to take the information straight to the media.

How does the whistleblower determine which approach to use? Is there a reason to believe someone within the company will handle the matter? Then the whistleblower won’t see any need to contact outside parties. There’s trust that everything they are in compliance with current laws. However, when there is little confidence that internal personnel will handle the situation, contacting an outside entity makes sense.

A Pharmaceutical Whistleblower Example

Whistleblowing is nothing new. In fact, we see more and more cases of whistleblowing each year. Within the pharmaceutical industry, whistleblowing often has to do with the development and release of new products.

Consider this example. An employee is working on a new product due for release in six months. He or she becomes aware that the company knows the product triggers a set of side effects. The company withheld that information from governmental agencies as well as from the public or the medical community. Given the circumstances, the whistleblower reports the side effects to a legal entity. He or she may even want to take the information to the public through the media.

Taking this type of action does involve risk on the part of the whistleblower. Attempts to discredit the individual are likely to take place. Furthermore, loss of employment or other issues may also arise. Hence, most people who chose to become a pharmaceutical whistleblower only do so after considering their options carefully.

Whistleblowers and the False Claims Act

The False Claims Act provides some amount of protection for whistleblowers. Employing the concept of qui tam, the whistleblower or relator has the right to some amount of compensation. This is in exchange for cooperating with an investigation into the claims. Finally, if the claims prove to be valid and the lawyers decide to take legal action, the level of compensation can be significant.

Whistleblowers and the Need for Legal Counsel

Seeking legal counsel before choosing to pass on information to anyone, either within or outside the company, is a smart move. An attorney can listen to what the client has to say and ask questions related to the evidence. Furthermore, the attorney helps the client understand what sort of outcomes are likely depending upon the actions they take. That includes what could happen if the client chooses to bypass internal personnel and go straight to the media or a government entity.

The attorney will also seek to protect the employee’s rights to the full extent of current laws. That includes preventing the client from losing his or her job. The attorney manages any communications between the alleged perpetrator. Also, they provide advice related to the client’s personal conduct while the investigation progresses. If the matter does result in a lawsuit, the attorney will usually continue to represent the client.

Whistleblowers sometimes feel that legal counsel isn’t necessary. However, help from an attorney is a good idea. Having legal guidance reduces the risk of retaliation. Also, it ensures proper procedures are followed. That’s important when it comes to approaching a government entity or making a case in court.

Do you have information about illegal activity within a pharmaceutical organization? There’s no reason to navigate your situation alone. You can have the help of an experienced legal team. Click to find out more about the rights and legal protections offered to a pharmaceutical whistleblower by contacting the Bothwell Law Group online.

Understanding the Basics of Whistleblower Legislation

What are the basics of whistleblower legislation, and how does it relate to you?

Basics of Whistleblower LegislationWhistleblower legislation isn’t a modern invention. It arose from corruption in the 19th Century, particularly as predatory companies scrambled to take advantage of government expenditures made during the Civil War. Fighters on both sides of the conflict were at a loss for essential supplies, from boots and jackets to edible food.

Companies contracted to provide the goods failed to deliver or dispensed products of such poor quality they were worthless. Widespread fraud directly contributed to deaths on the battlefield.

Establishing the ‘Lincoln Law’

President Abraham Lincoln is famous for many things, but one of his lasting achievements was the passage of the False Claims Act (FCA). Sometimes called the “Lincoln Law” in his honor, the act gives individuals the right to sue other people, businesses and organizations on behalf of the United States when they are guilty of defrauding government programs. Not only does it stop the crime from happening, it also gives the individual a chance to share in settlement or judgment payments.

Litigation doesn’t stop there. It’s important for fraud reporters to know criminal charges often accompany these lawsuits. A recent example is the owner of Texas-based Houston Healthcare Clinics, found guilty of Medicare fraud. The FCA case resulted in fines of $2.7 million and a 36-month prison sentence.  

The FCA has played a central role in breaking up corruption in all major industries. Inappropriate military spending was a hot topic in the 1880s and again in the 1980s. In previous decades, financial mismanagement was all the rage. Today? Whistleblowers are using the False Claims Act to force changes in the healthcare industry and stop companies from taking advantage of our most vulnerable populations.

How Is Fraud Uncovered?

One of the reasons Medicare fraud is on the rise is because of how easy it is to get away with it. Many times, patients are in no position to go over their insurance statements. Complicated rules regarding medical coding also make it difficult for a patient to know whether they’re billed correctly.

Many of the whistleblowers filing suit under the FCA are employees of companies committing fraud or their partners. A clinical social worker who noticed an ambulance company was providing transportation for patients at a premium sued the company and collected roughly $160,000 from the settlement. She helped her finances, but more importantly, she stopped the company from taking advantage of her patients and the Medicare program.

In other cases, secondary victims uncover the problem and speak out. In Florida, former medical director and whistleblower Dr. John Simons discovered his signature on paperwork he didn’t sign. Also from Florida, Dr. Donna Bell discovered a medical supply company was using her credentials to forge prescriptions for medical equipment to patients who weren’t in her care.

Rarely do victims have the knowledge or know-how to fight fraud impacting their bank accounts and their quality of life. It is up to people in the industry to keep businesses honest.

Why Is the Fair Claims Act So Effective?

The Fair Claims Act offers whistleblowers the best of both worlds. On one hand, you’re able to guide the hand of justice and reap the rewards. Some fraud reporters receive tens of millions of dollars for their role in stopping government-related fraud.

In May 2018, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission awarded three whistleblowers a combined total of $83 million. That’s larger than most lottery winnings. But it didn’t happen by accident. The law rewarded the individuals for tipping off the SEC about fund mismanagement at Merrill Lynch.

The promise of financial reward is essential to convincing some people to come forward. Why? Because of the risks involved in outing crime.

The federal and state governments have laws to protect whistleblowers from harassment, demotion, dismissal, blacklisting and other forms of retaliation. Sometimes these laws only apply to public workers. In few areas do they extend to all employees. In False Claims cases, you might have fewer options.

Looking for Legal Protection?

It’s helpful to work with a competent legal team who understands whistleblower protections. How you report on problems makes all the difference.

A court dismissed the case of Kathy Reitzel, former finance director for the Keys School District in Florida. In 2009, the school board forced Reitzel to retire early after she outed the district’s director of adult education for embezzlement. Monique Acevedo, the wife of then-superintendent Randy Acevedo, racked up over $400,000 in personal charges on the school’s accounts.

Unfortunately, Reitzel had knowledge of the embezzlement in 2007. She went to the superintendent to deal with the matter privately. If she’d gone through the proper channels, the school board said, Reitzel would have saved the district a significant amount of money — and her job.

Having guidance when navigating whistleblower laws will ensure you stop wrongdoings without putting yourself at excessive risk.

Contact the experienced whistleblower legislation attorneys at Bothwell Law Group by clicking or calling 770.643.1606 today.

What You Need to Know about Different States’ Whistleblower Laws Before Coming Forward

How do different states’ whistleblower laws differ from federal protection?

state whistleblower lawsStates’ whistleblower laws provide added protection for people, but they also come with their own set of eligibility requirements. Assumptions can spoil your case before it even begins. Working with a lawyer can help you navigate the complaint process the appropriate way to ensure you’re covered by whistleblower protections. You might also be able to share in any judgments or settlements arising from your complaint.

Which States Have Whistleblower Protection Laws?

The federal government has a few different laws protecting employees who come forward about bad practices in the world place. In some instance, these complaints fall under the False Claims Act. If the inappropriate behavior involves defrauding the government, the person reporting the fraud can file a lawsuit on behalf of the nation. Once the case is over, the reporter is eligible to up to 30 percent of judgment or settlement fees.

Other federal laws protect the rights of public employees. Generally, these laws prevent demotion, firing, industry blacklisting, unreasonable work changes, and harassment. The same is true for laws in certain states.

The following states do not have whistleblower protection laws:

  • Arkansas
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Maryland
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • North Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Texas
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

Some states extend whistleblower protection to public employees. Others, like California, extend those rights to everyone. However, in states without whistleblower protections, professional associations and company policies often provide them.

However, in order to be eligible for protection under laws or policies, complaints have to follow proper procedures.

What Benefits Are Available to Whistleblowers?

There are different types of whistleblower complaints, but the two most common are:

  • Employees turning in a business for illegal or unethical behavior, and
  • Individuals turning in a person or business for government-related fraud

Whistleblower protection for employees prevents on-the-job harassment, industry blacklisting, firing or demotion, and the assignment of unreasonable transfers or changes in duties. In some cases, whistleblowers are able to stay anonymous.

Take, for instance, the case of 15-year hospital staffer Donna D. Ladka, of White River Junction, New Hampshire. After complaining about a doctor’s inappropriate sexual behavior, the doctor stopped speaking with her and the hospital relegated Ladka to paperwork duties. Gifford Medical Center later fired Ladka, citing supposed patient privacy violations. The hospital opted to settle with Ladka out of court, and the doctor involved had to undergo ethics training.

When it comes to fraud cases, whistleblowers enjoy additional benefits. The False Claims Act gives people the right to sue on behalf of the U.S. government. If the case is successful and results in a judgment or settlement, the whistleblower receives up to a third of the payment.

People can opt out of both protections and financial benefits in the blink of an eye simply by complaining in the wrong way. It’s important to understand the state and federal laws relevant to your situation so you don’t give away your rights.

Even then, there are situations which might leave you at risk.

Whistleblowers Who Left Themselves Vulnerable

Employer concerns over employee social media posts have grown steadily with the rise of sites like Twitter and Facebook. So many people were being fired – and contesting – over criticisms of their companies, the National Labor Relations Board addressed the topic specifically.

While encouraging employers to judge instances on a case by case basis, the NLRB supported firings, demotions, and similar consequences when an employee shares damaging personal opinions online. If you’re posting a complaint held by a group of employees? You could be in the clear.

Unfortunately, by venting online you might be giving up other important rights. For instance, a government agency who sees your post could sue your company based on those complaints before you get the chance. Therefore, if they’re found guilty of defrauding the government, you wouldn’t have a claim to any portion of the judgment.

Social media is a wonderful way for consumers to make changes in the way their favorite companies do business. However, employees should stick with official procedures for logging complaints. Sometimes, these missteps are surprising.

Barbara Gonzales, former financial director for Killeen, Texas, found out how hard it can be to register your complaint to the proper authorities. In Texas, whistleblower protections extend only to employees who notify a police officer of crimes committed in the workplace. City and company policies often fail to acknowledge this process, encouraging people to file complaints in alternative ways that will leave them vulnerable.

Finally, while protections are available at the state and federal level, whistleblowers need help navigating the legal waters when it comes to stopping fraud and other crime. Click to find out more about state whistleblower laws by contacting Bothwell Law Group online.

Is Workplace Whistleblowing Effective in Educational Settings?

When it comes to education, workplace whistleblowing might seem like a more significant risk than it is.

Workplace WhistleblowingIs workplace whistleblowing really protected when it comes to education? The way some administrators run their schools and districts would make you wonder. Just asking for small changes or money for simple repairs can put you on the naughty list. It can be hard to believe that making an official complaint would lead to anything but problems, but there are laws to protect you from facing retaliation. In some cases, it’s possible to make a complaint while staying completely anonymous.

Part of the Problem or Part of the Solution?

Being part of a team is central to educational institutions and a team spirit is key to their success. Every teacher, every aide, every tutor or janitor in place plays a role in motivating students to perform their best. It’s normal for administrators to put in 110 percent and to expect the same from their employees.

Working as part of something larger than yourself is a rewarding experience, but what happens when problems arise? There will always be some people who see any criticism as an attack. Others will always feel strongly you should keep complaints to yourself or handle them privately. Turning in a complaint might come across as disloyalty, and suddenly, you’re not dealing with a problem anymore. You’re in a situation where it is you vs. them. If you “snitch,” you become the enemy.

This destructive cycle affects schools throughout the U.S. and has contributed to significant abuses regarding the handling of funds and of students. It’s imperative for people to feel safe coming forward about problems to ensure our kids stay safe. Unfortunately, the community culture among most school staff works against filing complaints.

Avoiding an “Us vs. Them” Situation

In theory, there are laws in place to protect whistleblowers; however, regarding education, strict guidelines are dictating how and to whom they should make the complaints. A lawyer can walk you through the specifics of your situation, though the Department of Education covers the basic framework here.

Government employees have different protections and responsibilities than those who are working for contractors, or perhaps, just applying for jobs.

The law can prevent you from being:

  • Fired
  • Demoted
  • Transferred
  • Harassed
  • Or threatened

Among other things, for filing a complaint, the law can’t force your coworkers to continue to trust you or be friendly. Hiring a lawyer before filing a complaint can sometimes help you preserve your anonymity.

The Difference Workplace Whistleblowing Makes on Student Quality of Life

For obvious reasons, it’s difficult for whistleblowers in education to come forward, but the benefits often outweigh the risks. When institutions misuse and abuse their positions, they have a direct and negative impact on the lives of students.

For instance, whistleblowers in education have been responsible for stopping:

  • Physical and sexual abuse
  • Failure to provide adequate special education
  • Mismanagement of school funds

Unfortunately, too many people assume they have protections they don’t have when sharing information. According to the Department of Education, there are only certain people to whom you can complain to for whistleblower laws to count.  

Former Illinois principal Julie McArdle found this out the hard way when raising concerns about questionable spending of her predecessor-turned-superior. Not only was McArdle fired, but the court found in the school boards favor, saying First Amendment protection doesn’t apply when you’re speaking on behalf of a government employer. She hadn’t made the complaint to the appropriate person, so it wasn’t covered under whistleblower laws or as freedom of speech.

Things are turning out differently for a part-time nurse for the Park City School District in Utah. After facing harassment, hostility, and termination following her official complaints regarding a lack of services for diabetic students, Nicole Kennedy sued the district and select administrators for violating whistleblower laws. Summit County 3rd District Court Judge Richard Mrazik refused to dismiss the lawsuit last month. The case is currently in mediation.

Education Fraud and Qui Tam Lawsuits

The False Claims Act allows individuals to bring qui tam lawsuits against those who engage in government-related fraud on behalf of the nation. These cases allow whistleblowers to share in judgments. Billions of dollars go to whistleblowers every year. However, it’s essential to file claims in the right way to be eligible to take part.

Fraud cases from the last year include:

  • Individuals filling out federal loan applications for students without their knowledge
  • Event planners scamming schools out of money for services they never intended to provide
  • Tutoring companies billing the government for services they did not offer
  • Charter schools using deceptive strategies to avoid paying taxes

What’s unique in these situations is that companies faced fines but individuals also went to jail—in some cases, for ten years or more.

We know how difficult it is to stand up and do the right thing. Having the proper legal representation makes whistleblowing simpler and safer.

Contact the skilled workplace whistleblowing attorneys at Bothwell Law Group by calling 770.643.1606 today or connecting with us online.