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Workers can claim wrongful discharge under state, federal laws

Category: Retaliation, Wrongful Termination

California workers might be interested to learn that a federal judge ruled on Sept. 29 that the whistle-blower protections provided in the False Claims Act do not prevent an employee from also filing a wrongful termination claim under state tort law. The ruling involves an employee alleging that a company terminated his employment after he raised issue with it overcharging the federal government.

The employee started working for the company, a government contractor, in 2004 as an application engineer. By July 2008, he became director of application engineering, and he remained in that role until October 2011. The lawsuit, filed in 2012, states that he was involved in sales demonstrations and the procurement process. It was during these activities that he saw that the company was using schemes to overcharge the federal government, including one in which it charged 10 times the amount that it was paying its employees. He claims that the company retaliated against him by firing him soon after he voiced his concerns.

The Department of Justice said that it would only intervene in regard to the worker’s claims that the company lied about the job descriptions of its employees to obtain bigger travel reimbursements, which is a False Claims Act violation. However, it refused to intervene with the state claim that the company overcharged for employee wages.

The judge presiding over the worker’s state filing rejected the claim. However, the judge reinstated the case on Sept. 29 after the Washington Supreme Court presiding over a similar case determined on Sept. 17 that the FCA is not the only remedy for wrongful termination.

Filing a retaliation case under the FCA could provide whistle-blowers with front pay, double lost wages, double benefits and special damages such as those for emotional distress. It does not allow punitive damages like the tort law of many states. Workers who believe that they are victims of wrongful termination, whether they were blowing the whistle on false claims or sexual harassment, might talk to employment law attorneys about taking legal action.

Source: Law360, “Whistleblower’s State Retaliation Claim Revived In FCA Suit,” Bryan Koenig, Sept. 30, 2015

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