Articles Posted in Whistleblower/Qui Tam

When we all go to work each day and work hard for our money, we expect that the companies we work for will pay us the proper wages that we earned. We also expect that if we see something wrong with a companies’ practices and report it that we will not be retaliated against for doing the right thing. Unfortunately, many companies do not pay employees what they are owed or engage in practices that are illegal so they can make more money.   If you or someone you know has been terminated for blowing the whistle on a business or if you have not received wages that you worked for, you should speak to an employment and wage lawyer at The Higgins Firm. We will listen to your claims and see to it that you get compensation that is rightfully yours for the hours you have worked.

According to this lawsuit two former personal trainers of the fitness club chain,  Lifetime Fitness, Jared Steger and David Ramsey, claim that their former employer has become one of America’s fastest growing fitness chains by deliberately and intentionally underpaying and deceiving its employees in a predatory manner which leads to excessively high turnover rate and widespread dissatisfaction with working conditions.  The lawsuit was filed against Lifetime Fitness after the two personal trainers were terminated. According to their complaint, the reason that was stated for Steger’s termination was because of his failure to turn in an “inventory count” on time, and Ramsey was allegedly fired for “discussing a co-worker’s employment status” the following day.     However, Steger and Ramsey,  assert management at the Lifetime Fitness club, fired them in retaliation for trying to notify them of the problems stemming from the handling of client payments and memberships. They claim that their terminations represent a violation of Whistle-blower laws that forbid employers from firing workers who refuse to engage in what they believe to be illegal activities. The trainers allege they were pressured to take part in credit fraud and deception.

The suit notes Steger, in April 2013 following repeated attempts to persuade his manager to stop the alleged practice and refund clients’ and former clients’ money, notified Lifetime Fitness management that “multiple clients” had been double-billed and electronic funds transfers had been altered so money could be drafted from clients’ credit cards and bank accounts without authorization. The lawsuit is also seeking compensation for unpaid wages and overtime because  Steger and Ramsey claim they were each owed more than $80,000 in unpaid back wages, including unpaid regular wages and overtime, for work they performed for Lifetime Fitness.  They allege the company has a policy of requiring personal trainers to perform unpaid work before and after supervising workouts with clients, and to meet with clients and management off the clock. They claim trainers often would work 70 to 90 hours a week, but not be paid for the majority of those hours. Trainers were also pressured by management to not clock in at certain times to avoid “taking pay away from managers” under a draw system. Steger and Ramsey accuse Lifetime Fitness of violating labor and wage laws, as well as the state’s Whistle-blower statue, and retaliatory discharge.  Since these actions potentially involved other personal trainers who worked for Lifetime Fitness, the trainers are asking the court to let them notify other potential plaintiffs and allow the suit to proceed as a class action.

According to a recent story from the AP, the state of Tennessee has stopped taking new inmates at its newest facility in Hartsville, TN after only 4 months of operation. “We’re holding off on sending more prisoners until CCA has an opportunity to increase its recruiting efforts and staffing,” Tennessee Department of Correction Assistant Commissioner Tony Parker told the AP.

This is certainly not the first time CCA has been in trouble for overworking its employees; in 2014, CCA paid 8 million ($8,000,000.00) to settle a lawsuit for back wages for employees at its facility in California City, CA. The company also paid $260,000 to settle overtime claims in November, 2013 for shift managers at its facilities in Kentucky. The settlement was unsealed – over CCA’s objections – after Prison Legal News (PLN), a project of the Human Rights Defense Center, intervened in the case to make the settlement public.

Also, in August 2009 the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas unsealed a $7 million settlement agreement in a nationwide class-action wage and hour lawsuit against CCA. The suit, brought under the Fair Labor Standards Act, alleged that CCA had required some employees to perform work duties “without compensating them for all such hours worked.” Specifically, the company was accused of not paying correctional officers and other employees for pre- and post-shift work that included roll calls, obtaining weapons and equipment, attending meetings and job assignment briefings, and completing paperwork.

This lawsuit which is being processed in a Tennessee federal court claims that the Lakeland-based Publix Super Markets violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act by not making legally required disclosures about background checks to job applicants. Publix has denied that they did anything wrong and was not found to be liable in court but have agreed to a settlement because of the huge cost of litigation and the cost of disruptions to their business.

The main plaintiff in the case, Erin Knights, applied for a job at Publix in 2013 through an electronic kiosk at a store in Tennessee. The lawsuit states that Publix’s application process included an authorization for a background check but it violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act rule that requires companies that are receiving a consumer report for employment to notify the potential employee a document containing only the disclosure. The lawsuit states that, “disclosure requirements are important because they enable consumers to control and correct the information that is being disseminated about them by third parties.”

The lawsuit also alleges that Publix included language in their job application that would lead to certain applications waiving specific legal rights concerning the background checks.

The settlement class totals 90,633 people who would receive roughly $48 each after lawyers’ expenses. The settlement includes people who applied for work at Publix and were subjected to background checks during the period March 12, 2012, to May 13, 2014. Publix has stated that it has made changes to its applications about the background checks. A Publix spokesman declined to discuss the case.

When we apply for jobs it is easy to believe that all the forms we are completing are legitimate. Also, it can be difficult to question the forms because we want to please our prospective employers. Who wants to be someone as a “troublemaker”? It seems that it is just this position of power the employers often abuse. Fortunately, we have some laws in place that level the playing field. The Fair Credit Reporting Act is a great example of just such a law. A law that was put in place to protect all of our citizens against corporations that may abuse that information.
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In this case, two subsidiaries of the Nashville-based hospital chain gave financial benefits to Diagnostic Associates of Chattanooga, a physicians group, in an effort to get more patient referrals to HCA facilities. The financial transactions in 2007 involved HCA Physician Services in Nashville and Parkridge Medical Center in Chattanooga. Officials stated that rental payments for offices leased from the physicians’ group went above fair market value. Federal law does not permit the payment of medical claims that result from financial relationships between hospitals and the physicians who may refer patients to them.

A spokesman for Parkridge Medical Center stated that, “We are pleased the matter is concluded, and we will diligently fulfill the terms of the corporate integrity agreement.” HCA did not admit any guilt in their settlement with the Justice Department for $16.5 million. This case developed as the result of a whistle blower lawsuit filed in East Tennessee. The whistle blower will receive an 18.5 percent share of the settlement money.

In Tennessee and all across the country, sometimes business and or individual employees are involved in business practices that are unethical and sometimes even illegal. If you or someone you work with knows about these practices and would like to file a complaint without fear of being terminated, then it is important that you speak to a Tennessee employment lawyer as soon as possible. They will hear your case, discuss your legal options with you and help you decide if you have a claim and can make a case.
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Tennessee employees as well as employees all across the country work hard for their money and they deserve to work in a safe and friendly work environment. They also should be able to by law report problems with their workplace without fear of retaliation or being terminated if they do so. Unfortunately, Tennessee whistle blower claims are on the rise. According to a recent lawsuit, Sergeant James Abbate claims he was targeted for retaliation after he reported that his superior Captain Ruben De La Torre had avoided tolls for months during this commute to work. Abbate claimed that he was told by another officer that Captain De La Torre put duct tape on his rear license plate in order to avoid toll road cameras. In the lawsuit, Torre claimed that his grandchildren had placed it on the plate. Also, according to the lawsuit after Abbate voiced his concerns, he was switched from evening to day shifts making it hard for him to take care of his mother. Abbate also received two complaints claiming that he was neglecting his duties. Abbate was cleared of any wrong doing however; De La Torre changed the evidence for the complaints so that they would still stand. De La Torre resigned last year following an investigation.

The jury awarded Abbate $1 million for emotional damages as well as for future lost wages. Abbate had been with the police department for thirty years and stated that he did not expect this verdict to affect his performance and duties at the police department.
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In Tennessee and all across the country, employees have the right to “blow the whistle” on an employer or company if they feel or suspect that the company may be engaging in illegal activities or harming the public in any way. These employees are protected by law against harassment for being the “whistle blower“. However, sometimes companies or employers find ways around these laws and harass or even fire their whistle-blowing employees. If you suspect harmful activity in your workplace and have blown the whistle and then have faced harassment or termination because of it, you should speak with a Tennessee employment whistle-blowing lawyer right away. They will hear your case and help make sure you receive the compensation you are entitled to.

In this case, a surgeon, Dr. Peter Horneffer, brought information to the management of the medical center for many years regarding the business practices of the medical center and other companies, which he believed were unethical as well as illegal in nature. Now, Horneffer, who has been an employee of the medical center since 2008, has filed a lawsuit against the medical center claiming the medical center has harassed, threatened, and discriminated against him for blowing the whistle about their business practices. The lawsuit goes on to claim that the medical center referred patients away from him and to other medical groups that he was not a part of.

The lawsuit also alleges that Horneffer was told that no one would discuss the business practices with him and not to bring them up. He was also asked to sign a nondisclosure statement about this conversation. Horneffer did not sign the statement. The lawsuit is seeking double back pay from January 1, 2001 to the present. These damages include lost wages. The lawsuit is also seeking compensatory damages, punitive damages and attorney fees.
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Recently a federal jury awarded former biotech scientist Becky McClain $1.7 million in damages after finding that Pfizer terminated her employment after she became sick with a bioengineered virus and then complained about safety issues. While the actual complaint of contracting the paralyzing virus through workplace safety inadequacies was dismissed by a judge due to lack of evidence, the jury did find that Pfizer violated whistleblower and free speech laws when it fired her.

Many workers’ advocates have long pressed for better regulation and safer conditions in biotech facilities fearing just this sort of event. Ms. McClain claimed was stonewalled repeatedly when she tried to get the genetic code for the virus being told it was a trade secret.

According to consumer advocate Ralph Nader, “It’s a field that has been trade-secreted out of the sunlight.” Nader has taken an interest in the case and has spoken numerous time with McClain. She spoke of situations where desks were right next to biological experiments being conducted and other safety problems.

McClain now suffers from a debilitating illness of partial temporary paralysis caused by a severe potassium deficiency. She believes she contracted this virus from a coworker’s experiment. This case has caused OSHA to reevaluate and improve regulations concerning biotech materials.
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In most cases here in Tennessee and across the country, when someone owes money for a debt, they have to pay the debt collector. However, in some cases like this one, the debt collectors’ conduct may be abusive or in violation of the law and in this leads to the debt collector actually owing the original debt the money instead of the other way around.

In this case, Allen Jones from Lewisville, Texas claimed being harassed by phone calls from the employees at the Advanced Call Center Technologies or “ACT” in 2007. The claim stated that ACT employees were trying to collect on credit card debt and they reportedly used racial remarks in voice messages to Jones. Then Jones and his attorneys used these saved messages to sue ACT.

The attorney for ACT, Dean Siotos, said the voicemails are not representative of how the company normally operates and says the calls must have been in some personal attack that was unrelated to the business. The two employees who allegedly left these messages, no longer work for ACT.

In recent qui tam law news, more health care providers have agreed to return moneys and pay fines for allegedly inappropriately billing Uncle Sam. U.S. taxpayers have the brave employees who blew the whistle and filed qui tam lawsuits against their employers to thank for reporting this corporate misconduct. In previous Tennessee Qui Tam Law Blogs, we have covered pharmaceutical companies that fraudulently bill government health care programs and medical institutions charging Medicare for unnecessary medications.

In one lawsuit initiated by whistleblower employees settled earlier this week, kickbacks using Medicare and Medicaid moneys were alleged by federal prosecutors in the False Claims lawsuit. Christiana Care Health System agreed to pay the United States and Delaware a combined $3.3M to resolve allegations of paying kickbacks to a Delaware neurology firm. In another qui tam lawsuit, a $14M settlement was reached between Feds and two Atlanta-based nursing home chains accused of kicking patients over to a Kentucky-based pharmaceutical firm.
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Apollo Group, Inc., the company best known for its subsidiary University of Phoenix, resolved a whistleblower lawsuit earlier this month originally filed in 2003. The online university’s parent company has agreed to pay $78.5M to settle the whistleblower lawsuit.

This qui tam lawsuit is doubly unique: first, it was pursued by a private relator after the U.S. Department of Justice did not join the lawsuit and, secondly, in that the defendant was not guilty of fraudulent Medicare charges or a military contractor but, rather an institute of higher education.
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