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Quicken Loans of Detroit has been targeted with similar lawsuits, and in early March 2017, U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith ruled that a lawsuit over questionable loan practices filed by the federal government can proceed, although the timeline was narrowed.
Another recent example of a large settlement due to the False Claims Act is the diesel emissions scandal that forced Volkswagen to plead guilty to fraud, obstruction of justice, and falsifying statements as part of a $4.3 billion settlement with the U.S. Justice Department in January 2017, over a scandal that the automaker had intentionally cheated on emissions tests. In total, VW agreed to spend up to $25 billion in the U.S. to address the claims from owners, environmental regulators, states and dealers, as well as offering to buy back about a half-million polluting vehicles in the U.S.
Brown said in recent years, the SEC, CFTC and IRS have been ramping up their whistleblower programs, "bringing in bigger and bigger rewards." The cornerstone of a whistleblower claim under the False Claims Act is proof that fraud or misconduct on the part of the company caused the government to suffer a financial loss.
According to the Department of Justice, whistleblowers filed 702 qui tam, or False Claims Act, cases in fiscal year 2016, and "the department recovered $2.9 billion in these and earlier filed suits this past year. The government awarded the whistleblowers $519 million during the same period," Mizer said.
Brown explained that an individual can bring in a complaint, and it will be filed in federal court, sealed under the suit, and then the Department of Justice investigates the complaint. While the suit is under seal, the whistleblower is protected and stays anonymous. "Usually the case can be under seal for a while, anywhere from 60 days to a few years," he said, depending on the agency.
Brown and his colleagues at Constantine Canon, where there are 22 attorneys dedicated just to whistleblower law, "A lot of lawyers get into this field because we want to do good," he explained, interview the complainant, "and if the agency decides to pursue the (whistleblower) suit, it's their show. If they decline, there are other remedies."
For an employee who has in essence tattled on their employer, why is it so important to be shielded by the Whistleblower Protection Act?
"Retaliation can be through the silent treatment (at work), being iced out, not being invited to meetings you normally would be," said Shereef Akeel. "Some employers are very clever, and they lawyer up and cover it. They'll give the employee (who blew the whistle) less desirable jobs, or move them to the night shift. Maybe they're not given their customary Christmas bonus, or are not put on the Christmas list. They could be ostracized. You're living through this gut-wrenching experience, and then you're ostracized. It's very difficult for the whistleblower. And it's even more difficult because they're usually such black-and-white, right-and-wrong type of a person."...continued on page 8