Protection for whistleblowers in public education cases is necessary to identify fraud in a variety of contexts, including public education.
The public education system is big and powerful, so if someone wants to identify fraud, special protection for whistleblowers in public education cases are necessary. Without these protections, a potential whistleblower may stay silent, even with the chance of getting a financial reward. What is the potential reward and what kind of protections are possible for whistleblowers?
The False Claims Act
The False Claims Act is a federal law that fights fraud against the federal government by primarily implementing monetary fines on individuals and organizations that commit fraud. This law is an old one, originating around the time of the American Civil War. Despite the government’s eagerness to catch those who defraud it, successfully finding and prosecuting the fraudsters is very difficult. Therefore, most cases brought under the False Claims Act rely on inside help.
Fraud Isn’t Always Obvious
Fraud is hard to detect. The government relies on whistleblowers to provide information needed to recover money improperly taken through fraud. However, acting as a whistleblower takes a lot of work and is very risky. This is because the whistleblower likely faces retaliation for “tattling” on the company or individual committing fraud.
One way to encourage whistleblowers to come forward is to provide a reward. Specifically, the False Claims Act has a qui tam provision. It says a whistleblower can bring a lawsuit on behalf of the United States government against the party committing the fraud. The whistleblower can receive a financial reward based on the amount recovered by the government. Depending on the facts of the case, the whistleblower (technically referred to as a “relator”) can receive between 15 and 30 percent of the amount of money recovered. Despite this potential financial reward, an individual still needs other reassurances before stepping forward. The False Claims Act has two primary methods of protecting the whistleblower from retaliation.
Protection Method #1: Secrecy
The best way to protect a whistleblower is to prevent his or her identity from becoming public knowledge. When a whistleblower brings a qui tam lawsuit, the lawsuit is “under seal.” Unlike most lawsuits filed in court, which are available for public viewing, a lawsuit under seal is secret. This secrecy is necessary to protect the identity of the whistleblower. It gives the government time to investigate the alleged fraud and decide if they will join the whistleblower in the lawsuit against the alleged defrauder. Without this secrecy, the whistleblower is at increased risk of retaliation. But also, the alleged defrauder would have time to potentially cover up its alleged wrongdoing or escape with stolen money to a country outside the jurisdiction of the United States.
Unfortunately, this secrecy ends. Officially, it only lasts for 60 days, but an extension to lengthen this secrecy period is possible. Getting the extension is very common. But even with an extension, the whistleblower’s identity will eventually become known because a public trial will have to take place. Besides that, many defrauders on trial under the False Claims Act will eventually connect the dots and figure out who the whistleblower is.
But even if none of that happens, the whistleblower will often lose their secrecy protection when they collect their reward. At that point, the whistleblower might not mind too much. But they could have worries beyond retaliation, such as the safety of themselves or their family.
Protection Method #2: Retaliation Prohibited
If the whistleblower is an employee, once the employer figures out who the whistleblower is, retaliation is likely. The whistleblower faces the potential for firing, demotion, harassment, and bullying. The False Claims Act prohibits all of these and other related retaliatory activities against the whistleblower.
If the whistleblower can prove that they are the victim of retaliation, they can potentially get their job back. Plus, they can get twice the back pay, special damages, attorney’s fees and interest. Unfortunately, even if the employee wins a whistleblower retaliation case, these damages are often insufficient. The whistleblower will probably become blacklisted in their chosen field. For example, a teacher who blows the whistle on a principal or school district will have trouble finding another job as a teacher, especially in the same school district. Even though the whistleblower acts honorably, many people don’t want to hire someone who has a reputation as a snitch. That teacher will have to find another career or move to another geographical location. Otherwise, they will continue work in a school where almost everyone is giving them dirty looks or otherwise trying to make life as miserable as possible.
Thinking about Becoming a Whistleblower?
It’s not fair, but it is a reality the whistleblower must prepare to face. Click to find out more about protection for whistleblowers by contacting our qualified legal team at Bothwell Law Group online.