Our San Francisco and Sacramento employment attorneys report another multi-million dollar whistleblower verdict. This time the jury sided with a former San Francisco city attorney who was the whistleblower and received $2 million dollars for damages which included emotional damages and lost earnings. The Whistleblower, or relator, alleged that the City Attorney fired her for investigating a corrupt payment scheme run by that same City Attorney. She sought public attention and awareness under the California and federal False Claims Act (FCA).
What happened in this case was that the relator investigated unwarranted payments from the city to a plumbing company to fix privately owned sewer pipes that were allegedly damaged by city-owned trees. However, in her complaint, the whistleblower/relator stated that when the investigation started to affect the City Attorney’s political contact, he re-assigned her to the district attorney’s office and then she was terminated.
This likely was retaliation for bringing her claims. Even though the City Attorney argued that he re-assigned her for legal reasons stemming from her management style, the jury saw right through the smoke and mirrors and sided with the whistleblower/relator.
Under the FCA, the Judge is entitled to order the defendant to pay triple the actual damages that the jury finds. In addition, the FCA also permits statutory penalties from $5,500 to $11,000 for each false claim submitted by the defendant. As result, the whistleblower will receive approximately 15 to 25 percent of the total FCA recovery plus attorney’s fees.
As the main enforcement arm of the federal government, the Justice Department reviews all cases filed under the FCA. Then, once the whistleblower case is assessed, the government decides whether it will prosecute or allow the whistleblower to bring the complaint on the government’s behalf.
The FCA is used to stem out fraud related to billing, staffing, and kickbacks. Examples of these are when financial companies are supposed to abide by state and federal laws and chose to ignore them. They also bills for services that were not provided or the bill was submitted at an improperly higher rate of reimbursement for the services. In addition, financial companies are often fount to illegally bill the government for substandard services by fraudulently certifying otherwise. Alternatively, these companies may realize that they have credit from their services that they have to repay to the government, but the companies do not reimburse the government within the 60 day time frame. See these blogs for more examples of the FCA.
If you witness any potential false claims in California (i.e. requests for reimbursement to the government, not actually rendering work when reimbursement is received, or receiving and knowingly retaining an overpayment) by your company, or you are retaliated against for voicing your concern about potential wrongdoing, immediate action is vital. Contact the experienced employment law attorneys at Stephen Danz & Associates for a free consultation to discuss your circumstances and legal options.