Who is qualified to be a relator in a Qui Tam action? To qualify as a relator in a qui tam lawsuit under the False Claims Act, special parameters must exist, both formal and informal. The formal requirements are set out by the courts and the False Claims Act itself. Informal requirements go to the personality of the relator. Read on to learn who is qualified to be a relator in a Qui Tam action.
Formal Qualifications of a Relator
A relator is an individual who brings the qui tam lawsuit on behalf of the US government. Therefore, they do not have to have been personally harmed by the alleged fraud. Most individuals can serve as a relator, although there are a few things to keep in mind.
Most of the time, the relator is going to be a current or former employee of the organization that is defrauding the US government or someone who has conducted business with that organization. This should come as no surprise given the amount of knowledge and information the relator is going to need to successfully pursue the qui tam action or effectively assist the government if it decides to intervene and join the case against the defendant.
The single most important qualification of a relator is that they must possess information not available to the general public. The biggest reason the US government is willing to share its recovered money is because it is gaining access to information, and therefore obtaining evidence it would not otherwise have. If the government could obtain the evidence itself, it would have no incentive to share its recovered money with anyone else.
Another formal qualification is that the relator cannot be a federal employee. Though it’s theoretically possible for the relator to be a federal employee, courts disagree on whether this is allowable. Even if it is, the US government doesn’t like it when relators in qui tam actions are federal employees. It’s easy to understand this conflict with the following example.
Mr. Sam works for the Environmental Protection Agency; therefore, he is a federal employee. Mr. Sam’s job duties include responding to and investigating complaints from citizens and companies about potential environmental violations. During an investigation, Mr. Sam discovers a major petroleum company has illegally dumped chemicals into a river. Furthermore, he learns that company also overcharged the US government $100 million when it provided fuel for military vehicles in Middle East military operations.
Mr. Sam wants to report this by starting a qui tam action. His potential reward can range from between $10 million and $30 million. See the potential problem? There is a delicate line between conducting an investigation as a government employee and an individual looking to increase his bank account, which could be an abuse of power.
Informal Qualifications of a Relator
In addition to the above requirements, some unofficial or informal qualifications will be helpful in serving as a relator. The first major qualification goes to the relator’s ability to handle risk.
There are several reasons an individual can choose to be a qui tam whistleblower. One of the strongest motivators is the potential to collect a substantial monetary reward. When a person decides to be a whistleblower, they are very likely to suffer retaliation at work. This can take the form of harassment, bullying and firing. And once fired, the relator may have trouble working with that organization or similar organizations ever again.
For example, an engineer at a defense contractor who blows the whistle may never again work as an engineer at a large company. They will have the reputation of being a “snitch” or someone who is willing to backstab their employer for a few bucks. This may very well not be true, but the world works not necessarily on reality, but on the perception of reality.
Depending on the difficulty of proving the fraud and the size of the potential monetary reward, the relator must balance those considerations with the almost inevitable retaliation they will face. Put another way, the individual will have to understand and accept they are taking a big risk when they sue the organization defrauding the government.
The second major motivating factor for many relators is the strong moral conviction of doing the right thing. Not all relators are in it for the money. Some of them simply want to report activities they deem unethical, unlawful, improper or all three. Given the risks involved and the likelihood of retaliation, a relator who’s not in it for the reward must have a strong sense of what’s right to continue pursuing the qui tam lawsuit in the face of retaliation.
Do You Think You Can Be a Relator?
Once you have learned who is qualified to be a relator in a Qui Tam Action, if you think you can serve as a relator, contact our team at Bothwell Law Group.