Supreme Court Weighs Scope of Whistleblower Protection Act

The U.S. Supreme Court next week will hear arguments in Department of Homeland Security v. MacLean, a case that could determine whether government officials are free to punish whistleblowers who disclose information that’s been labeled as “sensitive” — even if the information was never listed for protection by any law.

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Cardiology Group Will Pay $1.3 Million to Settle Claims of Improper Referrals

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) said it obtained a $1.3 million settlement of allegations that a cardiology practice violated the False Claims Act and the Stark Act by knowingly compensating its physicians based on the number of tests that the physicians referred.

The Stark Act prohibits a physician from referring Medicare patients for designated health services to an entity with which the physician has a financial relationship (unless an exception applies). The Stark Act does not permit a practice to compensate a physician based directly on the volume or value of the physician’s referrals for services not personally performed by the ordering physician.

The DOJ received a tip that Cardiovascular Specialists, P.C., d/b/a New York Heart Center (NYHC),compensated its physicians in a manner that violated the Stark Act. From September 2007 through August 2008, NYHC allegedly determined the compensation for its physicians by taking into account the value of the physicians’ referrals for nuclear scans and CT scans. The government’s investigation revealed that NYHC knew that this compensation formula could have violated the Stark Act.

“Medical decisions should always be made on the basis on what’s best for the patient’s health, not the physician’s finances. The compensation system in place in this case had the potential to influence medical judgment, which would be unacceptable,” said Thomas O’ Donnell, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), New York region.

Panel Finds Whistleblower Retaliation Against WMATA Employee Who Reported Technology Project

Public records obtained by a nonprofit website- Government Attic, reveal that the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) Whistleblower Retaliation Hearing Panel found that a former employee who blew the whistle on a troubled technology project was the victim of retaliation. This case is the first case since the panel was formed in 2010 in which the agency agrees that WMATA violated laws prohibiting whistleblower retaliation.

The panel believes that the former employee’s February 2010 termination was in part due to his cooperation with the agency’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) audit of a $6.9 million information technology project aimed at fixing problems with People Soft software, which is used by Metro.

Although the panel did not reinstate the employee, it ruled that the former employee is a “capable person” and should be given “preferred consideration” for future openings for which he qualifies.

The Employment Law Group® law firm has an extensive nationwide whistleblower practice representing employees who have been victims of retaliation.

 

Whistleblower Files Lawsuit against New York Organ Donor Network for Harvesting Organs from Living Patients

Patrick McMahon, a former transplant coordinator for the New York Organ Donor Network, filed a whistleblower lawsuit in the Supreme Court of the State of New York in Manhattan on September 25, 2012 against the federally-funded nonprofit group for allegedly using a “quota” system to pressure doctors and patients’ next of kin to sign consent forms allowing the organization to harvest organs.

According to McMahon’s lawsuit, he witnessed the organ donor network bully hospital staffers and pressured them to prematurely declare patients brain dead in order to harvest their organs. He cites one case from September 2011 in which a nineteen-year-old car crash victim was declared dead, even though according to McMahon he was “still trying to breathe and showed signs of brain activity.” McMahon openly protested the organization’s policies and was terminated four months into his role as a transplant coordinator. In fact, McMahon states that as a result of objecting this practice, another employee called him “an untrained troublemaker with a history of raising frivolous issues and questions.”

Trial Begins Next Month for Hollywood Effects Artist Alleging that Ascent Media Group Terminated His Employment Because He Reported Workplace Drug Use by Its Creative Director

Andrew MacDonald, an award-winning visual effects director, will go to trial next month in Los Angeles Superior Court against Ascent Media Group (AMG). MacDonald alleges that in 2009 he was terminated after he reported to AMG management “open and notorious drug abuse at the office during working hours” by then-AMG creative director Alex Frisch, best known for his work as visual effects supervisor on the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. MacDonald argues that Frisch posed a threat to public safety and health because of his erratic and aggressive behavior in the workplace while on drugs. MacDonald claims that AMG’s decision to terminate him for reporting Frisch’s workplace drug use violated public policy.

In Fall 2008, AMG merged visual post production studio RIOT with Method Studios. When these two studios were combined, Frisch emerged as the top creative director of the expanded Method, and MacDonald became the executive creative director. During contract negations with AMG’s president, MacDonald brought up his concerns regarding Frisch’s alleged drug abuse and his inability to head the department. He was at the time told not to undermine Frisch because AMG had invested a lot of money to execute the merger.

According to MacDonald, Frisch’s drug use was well-known by others in the office, who nicknamed Frisch the “Powder Donut Man” and “Cokey the Clown, Our Fearless Leader,” because of his cocaine use. In March 2009, when AMG management asked MacDonald if he had any actual proof of Frisch’s drug use, he jokingly asked if the company “needed [him]… to video-tape the bathroom in order to prove that his concern was well-founded.” The next morning, MacDonald was terminated by AMG for allegedly videotaping the bathroom. MacDonald denies having done so and believes AMG terminated him because he reported Frisch’s unlawful drug use.

The Employment Law Group® law firm has an extensive nationwide whistleblower practice  representing employees who have been victims of retaliation.

Morgan Stanley Complex Risk Officer Alleges Whistleblower Retaliation

Earlier this month Clifford Jagodzinski, a former risk manager for Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC, filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York alleging that the financial services firm terminated him in  April 2012 in retaliation for reporting questionable trading practices.

According to Jadozinski’s complaint, he informed his superiors that not only was Morgan Stanley “[bilking] investors” to drive up commissions. He also reported that other employees were involved in improper trading practices, some financial advisors were failing to register their home offices as alternate worksites, and one company advisor was abusing drugs. Although Jadozinski’s supervisor initially praised him for filing these reports, he was told soon after to hold off on his investigations. Morgan Stanley terminated Jadozinski after he informed that the firm should report its improper trading practices to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).

Jagodzinski is seeking reinstatement to his former position and over $1 million in damages.

The Employment Law Group® law firm has an extensive nationwide whistleblower practice  representing employees who have been victims of retaliation.