The attorneys at Cutter Law P.C. understand the difficulties whistleblowers face. We have the experience and resources to provide you with protection and legal advice so you can safely do the right thing while minimizing the risks to your career and reputation.
What is a whistleblower?
A whistleblower is an individual who comes forward with direct knowledge and proof of illegal conduct by a business or individual. Whistleblowers are commonly, but not always, employees of the entity committing the illegal acts. The illegal behavior could include a variety of activities, such as defrauding the government, fleecing the public, harming employees and endangering the environment.
Qui Tam Lawsuits
Whistleblowers who expose fraud against the government can file a qui tam lawsuit. A qui tam lawsuit is an action by a private party on behalf of the state or federal government. The whistleblower is called a relator, and the government is considered the actual plaintiff. These proceedings are sealed while law enforcement agencies within the government investigate. The government has the right to join the action. This is called an intervention.
Most whistleblowers are federal employees, but the Federal False Claims Act authorizes private individuals to file qui tam actions in federal court when they become aware of any entity obtaining funds from the U.S. government through false claims.
The California False Claims Act authorizes private individuals to file a qui tam lawsuit when they become aware of anyone defrauding the state for funds or property. Individuals can also report false claims directly to the attorney general using the public inquiry unit, and then the attorney general can file the claim.
Whistleblowers are entitled to compensation if they prevail in court. If the government intervenes, the whistleblower (the relator) can receive 15% to 25% of the proceeds awarded to the government. Otherwise, the relator is entitled to receive 25% to 30%.
Whistleblowers face the threat of retaliation from employers and businesses they expose, which can be a deterrent against whistleblowing. The government’s ability to identify and prosecute fraud depends in large part upon the willingness of whistleblowers to come forward.
Retaliation against employees occurs when the employer imposes adverse employment actions upon a whistleblower, including but not limited to the following:
- Termination of employment
- Denial of promotion
- Reduction of hours or pay
- Disciplinary acts
- Denial of benefits
- Failure to hire or rehire
- Intimidation, threats or harassment
- Creation of intolerable working conditions
The United States and the state of California have addressed retaliation by passing federal and state laws prohibiting retaliation.
Federal Laws that Protect Whistleblowers
The Whistleblower Protection Act protects employees of government contractors, subcontractors, grantees, subgrantees, and personal service contractors from retaliation when they need to blow the whistle on government abuse.
The law also prohibits the creation or enforcement of non-disclosure agreements designed to circumvent whistleblowing. These laws are enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Whistleblower Protection Program.
California Whistleblower Laws
The California Whistleblower Protection Act authorizes the California State Auditor to receive and investigate whistleblower complaints and prohibits retaliatory actions by government agencies against whistleblowers.
Employers in violation of state whistleblower laws can face fines of up to $10,000 and imprisonment for up to one year.
The Most Common Types of Whistleblower Cases
Whistleblowers expose fraud and abuses in virtually every industry. The most common whistleblower claims involve health providers, investment firms, financial institutions and government contractors.
Health Care Fraud
The Medicaid and Medicare programs were designated as high-risk programs in 1990 due to their susceptibility to fraud. In 2019 alone, the total estimated improper payment amounts for Medicare and Medicaid were $46.2 billion and $57.4 billion, respectively. Nursing homes, doctors’ offices, and hospitals have all been implicated in these cases. Health care insurance fraud includes the following:
- Billing for services not provided
- Billing for services at higher levels than was provided
- Knowingly treating and claiming reimbursement for someone other than the beneficiary
Financial Institution Fraud
The most common forms of bank fraud are embezzlement and misappropriation of funds. Advances in technology have created an increasing number of opportunities for bad actors to commit fraud. The FDIC Office of the Inspector General accepts and investigates whistleblower complaints.
Securities fraud covers a variety of illegal activities relating to the deception of investors and manipulation of the financial markets. These activities include the following:
- High-yield investment fraud
- Ponzi schemes
- Pyramid schemes
- Advanced-fee schemes
- Foreign-currency fraud
- Broker embezzlement
- Hedge fund-related fraud
- Late-day trading
- Improper payments to foreign officials
- Initial coin offerings and cryptocurrencies
The Securities Exchange Commission offers a reward program to whistleblowers, in addition to retaliation protection under Sec. 922 of the Dodd-Frank Act.
Securities fraud can financially devastate numerous victims, including individual investors and financial institutions. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 provides stricter auditing and disclosure requirements and adds criminal penalties for corporate officers who knowingly certify false documents in violation of public policy.
Federal or State Government Contractors
According to the U.S. Inspector General, the most common governmental fraud schemes are as follows.
- Employee misconduct – including embezzlement, theft or misuse of government property
- Public corruption – such as bribery and kickbacks
- Contract fraud – including procurement fraud, price-fixing, cost mischarging and fictitious vendor fraud
- Grant fraud – usually deception about the use of grant funds
- Fraud schemes specific to posts or positions within a U.S. Embassy, such as fuel theft, trafficking and unauthorized use of government vehicles
Do I need a California whistleblower attorney?
If you have become aware of a situation where an individual or business is defrauding the government or the public, you may be unsure of how to proceed. Motivation to do the right thing may be overshadowed by fear of the consequences. You may have concerns about retaliation, criminal reprisal or loss of reputation.
You may be tempted to confide in a friend or co-worker, but this is not advisable. The safest course of action is to contact a reliable California whistleblower attorney as soon as possible before you speak with anyone else about your concerns.
Speaking to someone else ahead of time could expose you to adverse actions by your employer without protection. Additionally, compensation is only awarded to the first person to come forward. A competent whistleblower attorney can provide a full case review, sound legal advice and protection against whistleblower retaliation and other adverse consequences from coming forward.
Why should I choose the whistleblower attorneys at Cutter Law P.C.?
Whistleblowers often find themselves in the position of having to report violations by personnel, even superiors, at their places of employment. Fraud and government abuse can happen in a variety of sectors, from health care to the banking industry. Effective counsel and representation in whistleblower cases require experience in multiple areas of law, including employment law, labor codes, business law and medical claims.
The attorneys at Cutter Law P.C. have extensive experience in all these areas of law, plus experience in civil rights cases, mass torts, class action lawsuits, wrongful termination and claims against many large companies. We also have a long record of successfully representing whistleblowers in multiple industries. Below is a representative snapshot of the successful cases our law firm has handled:
Settlement for government fraud in a whistleblower case against one of the world’s largest medical device manufacturers
Settlement in a nationwide defective medical device case involving defective pacemakers and cardiac defibrillators against Boston Scientific and Guidant
Verdict in an intentional medical misconduct case
Settlement in a government fraud claim
Settlements and verdicts like these require negotiation and litigation skills, along with a willingness to stand up to large companies on behalf of individuals. We are always transparent with our clients on the status of their cases and what they can expect. Below is the feedback we have received from our wonderful clients about our law group: