Articles Posted in Whistleblower Rights

Whistleblowing protections are cut and dry. If you see something illegal occurring and you report it to any type of authority – whether it’s to local law enforcement or a federal anti-fraud organization – and you are threatened, reprimanded, fired or punished in any way by your employer as a result, then you have been wronged, and are eligible to file suit against the offending party.

Protections exist for whistleblowers because, were they not in place, those who witness or are aware of criminal behavior would have no incentive to report these actions, and would have no protection from retaliation against them if they chose to do the right thing anyways.

Any individual can blow the whistle on any type of illegal behavior, whether it’s on a massive scale or a micro scale. No matter how big the crime, or the number of victims, the same protections apply.

The United States’ biggest whistleblowing protection agencies are housed within the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC). The IRS provides protection for those who blow the whistle on crimes involving tax fraud, while the SEC protects whistleblowers who report acts of fraudulent securities practices, such as insider stock trading and malicious stock practices.

Not only is it the right thing to do…

Providing information that leads to a successful investigation and, in most cases, criminals winding up in custody, is not only the right thing to do morally – it can also be incredibly lucrative for the whistleblower.

Since 2007, the IRS Whistleblower Office has helped the IRS collect $3.4 billion in may otherwise have been totally lost revenue due to tax fraud and other illicit tax activity. In turn, the IRS has awarded over $465 million in rewards to whistleblowers who helped them collect this revenue. Similarly, the SEC has awarded over $111 million in whistleblowing rewards since their program began in 2011.

To be rewarded for whistleblowing, you simply have to provide credible, accurate information that aids investigators in rooting out a criminal activity. There are stipulations and conditions for each the IRS and the SEC whistleblowing programs, which you can learn more about HERE and HERE.

Providing protections helps ensure whistleblowers are comfortable reporting illicit actions, but providing monetary awards actually incentivizes whistleblowers to speak up when they have proof of criminal activity. Continue reading

Addiction to opioid pain killers has reached epidemic proportions in recent years. Many blame the problem on pharmaceutical companies and doctors who are too quick to prescribe these highly-addictive drugs. Recent news may uphold this belief.

On Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that more than 400 individuals are facing criminal charges for their involvement in fraud and opioid scams totaling $1.3 billion. Sessions called it the “largest health care fraud takedown operation in American history.” He went on to say that this level of fraud shows that certain healthcare professionals “have chosen to violate their oaths and put greed ahead of their patients.”

Strips Clubs for Prescriptions

In one particular scam, six Michigan doctors allegedly wrote unnecessary prescriptions for opioids. If that isn’t disturbing enough, a rehab facility in Florida is accused of using gift cards, casino trips and visits to strip clubs to entice addicts to move to Palm Beach, resulting in about $58 million in fraudulent treatments. A Boston whistleblower attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you have unique information about healthcare fraud.

Of the 400 charged, at least 120 were involved in the illegal prescription and distribution of opioids – the same opioids that killed more than 52,000 Americans in 2015. And fatalities continue to rise. “In some cases, we had addicts packed into standing-room-only waiting rooms waiting for these prescriptions,” said Andrew McCabe, acting FBI director. “They are a death sentence, plain and simple.”

Those charged are facing criminal penalties stemming from allegations that they illegally billed Medicare and Medicaid for drugs that, in some cases, were never even purchased. In other cases, drugs were given to patients unnecessarily so that doctors and clinics could benefit financially. “They seem oblivious to the disastrous consequences of their greed. Their actions not only enrich themselves, often at the expense of taxpayers, but also feed addictions and cause addictions to start,” said Sessions. And the attorney general believes many more cases will come out of this.

United States Leads the World in Opioid Prescriptions

According to Chuck Rosenberg, acting administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, four out of five new heroin addicts started with opioids. The United States prescribes more opioids than any other country, by a long shot. “In West Virginia, one firefighter revived the same young lady three times in one day. That’s a system that is failing that individual,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. States with high rates of addiction cases, however, fear that healthcare legislation to combat this problem would result in Medicaid cuts, worsening the problem for addicts who are covered by the program.

Blow the Whistle

A whistleblower is someone who exposes illegal, unethical, or fraudulent activity within an organization, company, or government entity. The federal government encourages whistleblowers to come forward with this information. So much so, in fact, that whistleblowers may receive up to 30 percent of funds recovered through such a process. Considering that recoveries are often in the tens of millions, whistleblower payouts can be quite substantial. The federal government also protects whistleblowers from retaliation through the Whistleblower Protection Act. A MA whistleblower attorney can help you understand your rights and options if you have unique information about healthcare fraud. Continue reading

The Customs and Border Protection Agency (CBP) is stepping up its efforts to identify violations of customs laws, such as anti-dumping and trade tariff evasion. The agency will receive $300 million for the hiring of additional staff, and whistleblowers are being incentivized to come forward with information about fraud and other violations. Considering that whistleblowers can receive up to 30 percent of recovered funds, and that these recoveries can be in the tens of millions, you may stand to receive a substantial payout if you have unique information about such violations.

Multiple customs tariff whistleblower lawsuits have been filed in the past two years. These cases typically involve companies that are attempting to evade duties on imports from other countries. For example, Univar, a global distribution company, was caught masking the origin of saccharine imports from China to avoid high anti-dumping duties. To do so, the company had the product re-packaged and labeled in Taiwan before shipping to its final destination in the U.S.

In other cases, companies may attempt to misrepresent the type of goods to declare them under a classification with a lower duty. A MA whistleblower attorney can help you determine how to move forward if you have information about customs tariff evasion, or similar illegal activity.

Customs Border Patrol Agents Need Help

Whistleblowers actually play a significant role in preventing fraud and evasion of import and export duties. Massive ships with hundreds of shipping containers on board come into the United States every day. Customs agents conduct inspections, but they can’t inspect every container on every ship, train, and truck. Even less so now that a major portion of their time is dedicated to fighting drug trafficking and terrorism. In fact, Customs and Border Patrol agents are expected to inspect less than two percent of the more than 20,000 containers slated for entry into the U.S. this year alone.

Federal False Claims Act Protections

The federal False Claims Act protects whistleblowers and encourages these “original sources” to report fraud and other illegal activity by filing a claim. These claims are also referred to as qui tam lawsuits. The Whistleblower Protection Program ensures that people who disclose allegations of certain activities are protected from retaliation. According to the Act, whistleblowers who report the following violations are protected:

  • Violations of laws, rules, or regulations
  • Any type of mismanagement
  • The wasting of funds
  • The abuse of authority
  • A serious danger to public safety or health

The Importance of Whistleblowers

Thanks to whistleblowers, the federal government has been made aware of countless activities that could have a negative impact on the safety and health of the general public. Whistleblowers can be financially rewarded for reporting illegal activity in many industries, including pharmaceutical sales, defense, education, and finance, among others. A Boston whistleblower lawyer can help you file a qui tam lawsuit if you are aware of fraudulent or illegal activity in any of these industries. Continue reading

Blogger Susan Fowler recently published an account of her time working at the world’s most successful startup, Uber. It wasn’t positive. The tech giant has been battling accusations of sexual harassment and other damaging reports this past year, but Fowler’s claim was especially concerning; her supervisor propositioned her for sex on the very day she joined his team.

And the claims don’t stop there. Fowler also wrote that HR employees treated her with hostility, and male employees were given free leather jackets while their six female counterparts were excluded. Up until recently, claims of sexual harassment, misogyny and gender discrimination in the tech industry were often downplayed. But the resignation of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick on Tuesday night is evidence that times are quickly changing, and the tech world is no longer an exception. A Boston employment law attorney can help you determine how to move forward if you’ve been the victim of workplace sexual harassment.

“Moving Uber Forward”

According to reports, Kalanick’s resignation was driven by several of Uber’s major investors. Five individuals came together and composed a letter, which they titled “Moving Uber Forward,” demanding the CEO’s immediate resignation. In a statement to the New York Times, Kalanick said, “I love Uber more than anything in the world and at this difficult moment in my personal life I have accepted the investors [sic] request to step aside so that Uber can go back to building rather than be distracted with another fight.” Prior to his resignation, Kalanick oversaw the firing of 20 employees accused of sexual harassment. But it wasn’t enough. Fowler’s courageous choice to make her mistreatment public may have changed how gender bias and sexual harassment are handled in the workplace, especially with regard to the tech industry.

Money Talks

The Uber investors responsible for ousting Kalanick had invested billions into the tech superpower; they didn’t want to risk their investment. For them, the only way to turn around a year’s worth of negative press was to get rid of the guy who was steering the sinking ship. As they say in business, no press is bad press, and Uber’s recent actions are likely to dominate the headlines and restore its formerly-positive (or at least not negative) reputation. A MA employment law attorney can help you recover damages if you’ve been a victim of workplace sexual harassment.

The Ultimate Boycott

Beyond claims of sexual harassment and gender discrimination, Kalanick’s resignation may also remove the perceived link between Uber and Donald Trump. Several months ago, Uber lost customers when over 200,000 of them deleted the app following a controversy related to the president’s proposed travel ban affecting seven predominantly-Muslim countries. “For some people looking to dump Uber, the #deleteUber campaign simply sealed the deal,” read one headline. The extent of Kalanick’s connection to this controversy remains unknown, but when it comes to PR, perception is everything. Continue reading

If you are a public employee, and you believe that your employer may have broken the law, or is otherwise in violation of a rule or regulation, that puts the public health or safety at risk, you should feel comfortable reporting it without fear of any backlash from your employer (from a legal standpoint, at least). According to Massachusetts law, these “whistleblowing” actions should always keep the employee who is reporting the violation protected from termination, suspension, demotion, and any adverse employment action being taken by the employer in response.

In addition to protection from their state government, whistleblowers are protected through the federal government, which has several safeguards in place to ensure that a whistleblower’s future at the company is not at risk, despite reporting an employer’s violation of the law. The United States Department of Labor, through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), has what is known as “The Whistleblower Protection Program”. This is designed to operate as a guide for anyone engaging or considering engaging in whistleblowing activity to know how to do everything from start to finish. This includes the initial step of actually filing the complaint (or understanding what constitutes a legitimate complaint in the first place), to understanding how their complaint may affect their employment status. The program provides a more detailed and specific list of what actually constitutes “adverse action” against a whistleblower.

If you report an employer’s violation, or are considering doing so, keep an eye out for any of the following actions, which, according to the government, are illegal to take against a whistleblower:

A former high-ranking employee of UnitedHealth Group Inc., a healthcare company based out of Minnesota, has gone public with a whistleblowing case against his former employer, alleging that they purposefully and knowingly gamed the country’s chaotic healthcare system in order to get more money from the federal government.

The situation is an incredibly tangled web of different organizations, government agencies and winding policy, but the crux of the matter is as such:

  1. Healthcare insurance providers, such as UnitedHealth Group, are given money through the federal government’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (C.M.S.)
  2. Insurance providers use this money to pay doctors, who bill the insurance companies for services rendered to their patients
  3. Insurers get paid more money by the government if they enroll people with worse health complications, an incentive to prevent sick people from being systematically denied coverage
  4. This system is known as “Medicare Advantage,” and was implemented by the federal government in the hopes that it would result in better care at a lower cost and help cover a $13 trillion funding gap for Medicare.
  5. However the whistleblower, Benjamin Poehling, alleges that insurance companies have been intentionally misreporting patient charts as a way to milk more money from the government, which is going directly into pockets and not helping patients in any way.

The lawsuit, filed under the False Claims Act, alleges that UnitedHealth Group would take patients with health complications such as diabetes and then explore every possible other condition they could have suffered as a result in order to boost that patient’s profitability to the company.

At the same time, the insurance provider would ignore possible complications such as high blood pressure, as these diagnoses did not carry a profitable incentive from the C.M.S. In short, the lawsuit alleges that UnitedHealth Group treated its patients as nothing more than a part of their profit margin, rather than treating them as human beings in need of care.

One particular email that was obtained in the lawsuit, as was reported by the New York Times, shows a disgusting, almost salesman-like attitude coming from a chief financial officer within UnitedHealth Group.

“You mentioned vasculatory disease opportunities, screening opportunities, etc., with huge $ opportunities,” the chief financial officer of Poehling’s division wrote. “Let’s turn on the gas!” Continue reading

In 2011, a railroad worker filed a complaint against Pan Am Railways, Inc., claiming he was subjected to retaliation after filing a Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) whistleblower complaint. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigated the complaint against the North Billerica-based railroad and decided in favor of the employee. A federal appeals court has agreed, ordering the railway company to pay $260,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.

The employee, who worked in a Waterville, Maine rail yard, was accused by his employer of dishonesty in connection to an injury-related whistleblower complaint. For their retaliatory actions, Pan Am Railways, Inc. was ordered to compensate the employee to the tune of $10,000, pay $40,000 in punitive damages, and take corrective actions so that a similar incident doesn’t occur in the future. The railway company appealed.

Appeals Denied, Punitive Damages Skyrocket

A supervisory special agent working within the inspector general’s office of the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, referred to colloquially as Amtrak, has been reinstated and awarded a hefty sum of over $892,000 by the railroad company after he was terminated for raising safety concerns about a contractor hired by Amtrak.

The contractor in question had been convicted in a New York court in 2010 for committing fraud in its examination and testing of concrete used in building projects in the area of New York City, and had been contracted to conduct similar tests on some Amtrak tunnel projects as well. The investigator, concerned about safety and security of the tunnel projects given this fact, raised safety concerns about the contractor.

Subsequently, in October of 2010, the investigator supported a fellow employee who had been reprimanded for raising his own series of concerns about the contractor. A month later, the investigator received a negative performance review – the first he had received in his career with Amtrak.

In March of 2011, the investigator learned that his position was being eliminated as part of an “overall reorganization” of the company. Despite applying for other positions within the company, he was given no new position and was notified in June of 2011 that his employment was officially terminated with Amtrak.

The investigator then filed a whistleblower complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), who opened an investigation into the issue. OSHA found that Amtrak had violated the Federal Railroad Safety Act, which protects employees who report potential safety concerns from being wrongfully discharged, demoted, suspended or otherwise reprimanded as a result of sharing their concerns.

“In this case, an employee was terminated for pursuing and reporting safety concerns. The employer’s retaliation is unacceptable and illegal,” said Jeffrey Erskine, OSHA’s acting New England regional administrator. “Federal law gives rail carrier employees the right to raise safety, health and security concerns with their supervisors without fear of retaliation. When retaliation occurs, it can have a chilling effect on employees and create a climate of silence where employees’ fear to speak up masks conditions that could impact their health and well-being, and that of their customers.”

OSHA has ordered Amtrak to do the following:

  • Reinstate the employee to a similar position as was held before the termination with the same rights, seniority and benefits as before.
  • Pay a total in $892,551 to the employee, comprised of $723,332 in back wages (plus $34,218 in interest), $100,000 in punitive damages, $35,000 in compensatory damages and attorney’s fees.
  • Remove all references to the employee’s dismissal from Amtrak’s records and make no adverse statements concerning his employment at Amtrak.
  • Post a notice to all railroad employees about their Federal Railroad Safety Act rights.

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