Almost exclusively one of the first questions asked is, “Am I or will I be protected if I investigate or pursue an action under the False Claims Act?”
During the Reagan administration, Congress tried to discover why so much taxpayer money is lost to fraud, waste, and abuse. After extensive hearings, Congress determined that common citizens (and usually employees of the fraudsters) were the key to preventing and prosecuting widespread fraud on the United States. However, Congress also found that patriotic and courageous citizens who would attempt to correct fraud, waste and abuse exposed themselves and their families to undue hardship with no protection or possibility of recompense. In 1986, that problem was solved.
The False Claims Act contains a whistleblower-protection provision, which provides that:
Any employee who is discharged, demoted, suspended, threatened, harassed, or in any other manner discriminated against in the terms and conditions of employment by his or her employer because of lawful acts done by the employee on behalf of the employee or others in furtherance of an action under this section, including investigation for, initiation of, testimony for, or assistance in an action filed or to be filed under this section, shall be entitled to all relief necessary to make the employee whole. Such relief shall include reinstatement with the same seniority status such employee would have had but for the discrimination, 2 times the amount of back pay, interest on the back pay, and compensation for any special damages sustained as a result of the discrimination, including litigation costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees. An employee may bring an action in the appropriate district court of the United States for the relief provided in this subsection.
Congress wanted to protect anyone who is in any way affected by an investigation of possible fraud on the government. One court said that this applies even if the employee was unaware of the law at the time of the discrimination. Another court found that no employee has to finish the investigation or even know all the pieces of the puzzle to be protected; otherwise a company could thwart investigation by firing their employees before they could gather all the evidence of fraud. It is not necessary to be a qui tam relator in a False Claims Act lawsuit to be protected. Bothwell Law Group has represented employees who merely told the truth in depositions, who merely cooperated with government investigations, and even those who simply complained about wrongdoing at the company.
Of course, as with all statutes, this anti-retaliation provision has been subject to a myriad of court interpretations, and it may not be applicable to every potential whistleblower’s circumstances. There are now many state protections as well and varying requirements and limits that apply. If you are contemplating bringing a qui tam action, or believe that you have been discriminated against because of your actions in bringing an employer’s improper practices to light, you should contact a lawyer to discuss the possible applicability of this whistleblower-protection provision. All initial contacts with Bothwell Law Group are free and confidential.