Whistle Blower – Protection From Abuse Of Power

by William Jorden on April 26, 2011

by William T. Jorden, Esquire

On March 17, 2005 a Federal Jury in Erie returned a verdict in favor of a Cambridge Springs resident, (our client, name withheld), and against Marilyn Brooks, the former Superintendent of SCI Cambridge Springs. This person was fired after reporting that Brooks was spending exorbitant sums of public money, without proper approval, on the residence provided for her by the state.

Our client engaged Meadville attorney, Bill Jorden to get their job back. A law suit was filed in Federal Court based upon a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim of retaliatory firing in violation of our client’s constitutionally protected free speech rights.

The jury’s verdict for our client was $97,484.00, and the Court ordered the job restored.

The law encourages individuals to report official wrongdoing, and it protects, and even in some instances, rewards individuals for doing so.

In 2001, Pennsylvania enacted a similar whistle blower law at 43 P.S. §1422. The Pennsylvania Law provides that no employer may discharge, threaten, or otherwise discriminate or retaliate against an employee for making a good faith report about wrongdoing or waste. A Judge, in rendering a judgment, shall order as the Court considers appropriate, reinstatement of the employee, the payment of back wages, full reinstatement of fringe benefits and seniority rights, actual damages, or any combination of these remedies. The Court may also award the complainant all or a portion of the costs of litigation, including reasonable attorneys fees and witness fees.

Numerous Federal Acts exist to protect whistle blowers. In many instances, reports of violations of security laws, discriminatory actions such as sexual harassment, violations of environmental laws, etc., are protected.

A Military Whistle Blower Protection Act protects whistle blowers in the U.S. Military.

Perhaps the most fascinating of these federal whistle blowers laws is contained in the False Claims Act. Cases brought under this act are referred to as qui tam law suits. The whistle blower that alerts civil authorities of wrongful acts being committed by his employer against the federal government, has a remedy, beyond mere job protection.

In qui tam, the whistle blower sues on behalf of the government and will share in any recovery. An example of such a case is a Montana accountant employed by a health care corporation. He was fired after he refused to file fraudulent cost reports with Medicare. His False Claims Act Law Suit against the corporation resulted in an $85.7 Million Dollar verdict and an award to the whistle blower of 24% of the recovery. Many qui tam claims involve contractors and corporations, doing business with the government, who is represent and overcharge the government for their products or services.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, in the fiscal year 2004, qui tam law suits resulted in recoveries of $554 Million. Whistle blowers received rewards that totaled $108 million.

Reporting fraud and wrongdoing is the right thing to do. It is not the easy thing. It takes a lot of courage. The whistle blower and his or her family, often suffer both emotionally and financially after blowing a whistle. Laws are in place to protect and reimburse the whistleblower. Before blowing the whistle, it is always recommended to seek the advice of an attorney to ensure you that the law will protect the action that you are contemplating.

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