In light of the new Steven Soderbergh movie The Informant! starring Matt Damon as real-life (though no role model) corporate whistleblower Mark Whitacre, I’d like to revisit a topic I’ve blogged about on our sister Tennessee Law Blog for my contribution to this week’s Tennessee Employment Law Blog, that workplace law topic being TN qui tam (whistleblower) lawsuits.
The False Claims Act’s qui tam provision goes back to the Civil War when Abraham Lincoln saw the Union being bled to death by government contractors audaciously bilking the government. President Lincoln saw this theft of tax dollars as a national threat, understanding that these financial hemorrhages could cost them the war. What the qui tam provision allows, both under federal and Tennessee False Claims Act laws, is for the whistleblower to share in the portion of the moneys the government recovers. In federal funds fraud cases, that can be up to 30% of the total damages. In Tennessee whistleblower cases, that can be up to 33%.
On 20 May 2009, responding to recent misuse of government moneys in pharmaceutical marketing and by military contractors in Iraq and Pakistan, the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act of 2009 became federal law. This update to the False Claims Act allows for increased protections for whistleblowers and removes some of the barriers to government collected evidence, as well as other revisions beneficial to the whisteblower pursuing incentives put into place by Lincoln’s qui tam provision.
Any company or organization, including universities and hospitals, receiving federal government payment is subject to the False Claims Act. Fraudulent billing of Medicare, Medicaid, and TennCare happen in a number of ways, including charging to the government dime unnecessary services, billing for nonexistent work or workers, and upcoding (charging for premium medical equipment or drugs when generics were used). For each instance of fraud, the company is liable for $5,500 – $11,000.
From 1987 to 2008, the federal government has been awarded $21.6 billion as the result of a False Claims lawsuit, with $2.2 billion going to private qui tam whistleblowers.
Both the federal and Tennessee law prevents an employer from harassing, discriminating, or other acts of retaliation an employee for taking qui tam action. Working with an experienced TN employment lawyer will further help protect you from negative actions an employer might take against a whistleblower. If retaliation should or has already occurred, additional damages, including the pay you would have earned if working (back pay) and reinstatement, may be had. Additionally, the aforementioned new federal False Claims Act provisions protect workers from retaliation even if they have not formally blown the whistle under False Claims guidelines.
Visit our Whistleblower / Qui Tam web pages on our Nashville, Tennessee employment law firm’s website for more information, or complete our workplace attorney request form to speak with a qui tam lawyer.