The U.S. Department of Justice announced settlements in three large qui tam cases during March — including a price-fixing case where the whistleblower earned a half-million-dollar reward.
A big technology distributor will pay $5.66 million to settle a whistleblower’s claims that it overbilled and underpaid the U.S. government — and also sold it Chinese-made products, in violation of federal trade law.
On March 8, 2010, Judge Anderson issued an opinion broadly construing the scope of actionable retaliation under the False Claims Act (FCA), allowing whistleblower Ann Howard to proceed with her FCA retaliation claim in U.S. ex rel. Howard v. Urban Inv. Trust, Inc.. Howard was employed as an accountant for Urban, a property management company that worked for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA). Urban contracted with Synergy Affiliates to manage its payroll, benefits, and human resources. The two organizations considered themselves co-employers of Howard.
Howard alleges that she discovered Urban was misusing and embezzling HUD and CHA funds. She resisted pressure to participate in the criminal activity and in turn suffered harassment and retaliation. Howard reported these issues to her human resources representative at Synergy who failed to take any action. Howard then met with criminal investigators from CHA and informed Synergy of this meeting. Howard continued to experience harassment and resigned.
Synergy moved for summary judgment, claiming that in order for liability to attach, an employer must engage in an affirmative retaliatory action. The judge rejected this argument, holding that the FCA’s anti-retaliation provision “covers situations in which an employee is ‘in any other manner discriminated against in the terms and conditions of employment.’” Accordingly, by failing to execute its duties “with respect to a specific employee,” the employer “could be discriminat[ing] in the terms and conditions of the employment for that individual.” A copy of the order is available here.
For information about The Employment Law Group® law firm’s False Claims Act Retaliation Practice, click here.
A new report released by the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) reveals that the number of DoD referrals to the Justice Department for contracting fraud and corruption cases have decreased drastically since 1993. According to the report, the Justice Department has received 76% fewer cases in fiscal year 2008 compared to fiscal year 1993, despite the upsurge in defense contracting ($200 billion in 1993 compared to nearly $400 billion in 2008). The CPI attributes the low number of referrals to a number of factors, including shifting priorities, workload increases, and the declining manpower and expertise in the DoD Office of Inspector General (OIG). According to the report, these problems are not unique to the OIG. The number of prosecutions of cases involving defense contracting fraud has also decreased since the Clinton administration due to the lack of “personnel to detect, investigate, prosecute and deter criminal activity impacting DoD.” The good news is that the existing problems are being addressed. Efforts to increase oversight and accountability in the DoD and Justice Department, include:
- Examining the government’s work in combating fraud and determining whether it is sufficient to catch and deter wrongdoing;
- Reviewing and improving government contracting rules;
- Improving coordination among government investigators; and
- Providing specialized training for agents and prosecutors on procurement fraud.
For more information about procurement fraud and The Employment Law Group® law firm’s Whistleblower Practice, click here.
On April 23, 2008, the House passed Congresswoman Maloney’s bill, H.R. 3033 (“Contractors and Federal Spending Accountability Act”) with a voice vote, to put a stop to contractors defrauding the government. This legislature requires the Administrator of General Services to establish and maintain a database of contractor violations of federal procurement laws. Currently, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), a nonprofit organization that investigates fraud and abuse in all federal agencies, maintains a database of contractor misconduct, which is available here. The companion bill in the Senate is S. 2905. To date, the Senate has read the companion bill twice and has referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.