As they do every year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission released their list of top charges for the previous fiscal year. Between October 2013 and September 2014, nearly 90,000 charges were filed. As it has since fiscal year 2009, retaliation (being punished for being a whistle-blower) was the most common complaint filed, this year making up more than 40 percent of all charges. This is also the most retaliation charges ever filed in one year.
A workplace is expected to be a safe environment, free of corruption in all of its ugly forms. Yet, many people all over the state of Wisconsin work every day in workplaces filled with blackmail, embezzlement, gross waste of funds and other shady business practices. Fearing for their jobs, witnesses often will do and say nothing. It is important to understand, however, that both federal and state laws protect whistle-blowers from losing their jobs.
Qui tam actions are lawsuits filed by employees who believe their employers defrauded the government. Such employees are known as whistle-blowers. Without whistle-blowers, many employers would continue to violate the law without facing consequences. The False Claims Act was created to protect whistle-blowers. The Act also outlines specific requirements a whistle-blower must meet to pursue a qui tam action. For example, the Act states that the whistle-blower must be represented by an attorney. One reason for this requirement is that the process of filing a qui tam action is extremely complicated. The investigation process alone involves numerous steps, including subpoenas for records, interviews of witnesses, and expert consultations.
Wisconsin employees may be interested in learning more about the first-ever whistleblower payment made by the Securities Exchange Commission on April 28. The reward was given as a part of the federal government's new whistleblower rewards initiative. The recipient of the reward was a former hedge trader victimized by retaliation after he reported issues concerning internal conflicts of interests. According to the SEC, the former Paradigm Capital Management trader was also subjected to other unique hardships in addition to the retaliation.
The anonymous person who led federal investigators to a "flash crash" trader could collect millions of dollars for the information under the federal whistleblower laws. Under the program created as part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform movement, informants can collect up to 30 percent of the total sanctions if the government is able to collect at least $1 million as a result of these tips. Those who have information on Wisconsin businesses that have engaged in illegal practices may also be eligible for payment under federal whistleblower laws.
Wisconsin residents may be interested in a lawsuit filed under the False Claims Act in 2009 against a chain of nursing homes. The suit states nursing home residents were put through physical therapy regimens that were billed at a higher rate to increase profits. On April 14, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it was intervening in the case.
Wisconsin residents with ties to VA hospitals may be surprised to learn about allegations of retaliation against whistle-blowers at the agency. Beginning in 2014, there have been a number of scandals associated with treatment of patients in the hospital system including long wait times during which some patients have died while waiting for treatment. The panel of whistle-blowers who testified April 13 before a subcommittee of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs were drawn from a number of states including California, Alabama and Delaware.
The Securities and Exchange Commission is enforcing whistleblower protections provided within the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. It wants employers in Wisconsin and across the country to observe whistleblower protections in its employee contracts and agreements. The commission has requested documents from numerous companies in an effort to identify violations within confidentiality agreements, employment contracts and non-disclosure agreements.
People in Wisconsin may be interested to learn about a recent announcement made by the Securities and Exchange Commission about the results of its first enforcement action the agency filed against a Houston-based company. The publicly traded company was fined for its policies and confidentiality agreements that could have potentially prevented whistleblowers from reporting securities violations to federal authorities.
Whistleblower employees of publicly traded companies in Wisconsin and across the nation are protected from retaliation when they bring forward suspected illegal or unethical action. In 2013, an employee of Paramount Pictures highlighted concerns about an executive who was over-charging the company for travel expense reimbursements.