A whistleblower is someone who exposes unethical or illegal behavior that an organization is hiding. Because of the risk of retaliation, there are whistleblower protections in place to protect those individuals who expose bad behavior by a company or other organization. Often, this unethical behavior takes the form of fraud against the company or organization.
It’s important for anyone who suspects fraud against the government, either state or federal, and is in a position to bring a whistleblower case against the perpetrator to know what both their rights and responsibilities are. There are a lot of different terms involved in fraud cases against the government and if you’re choosing to bring litigation against an organization that has committed fraud, you’ll need to know the relevant terminology. Qui tam relator is a term you’ll hear a lot.
What Is a Qui Tam Relator?
In whistleblower cases involving fraud committed by an organization against the state or federal government, the qui tam relator is the person who initiates the case. The government may get involved in the case that’s being taken up on its behalf, but whether it does or not, the initiator of the case will still be called the relator. A relator may be entitled to a percentage or portion of the money recovered by a lawsuit, depending on the
Where Did the Term Relator Come From?
This term originated in the first law signed by President Lincoln in 1863 as part of the government’s efforts to curb fraud. In 1863, the use of the word whistleblower was not in popular use. For this reason, even modern whistleblower laws explained that the term relates or is used by parties and courts to signify The Whistleblower or the individual who had inside information about the alleged fraud.
What Is a Relator?
A relator is a whistleblower filing on behalf of the government in a fraud case. Typically, the government is considered the true plaintiff in a fraud lawsuit, rather than the whistleblower who brought the suit. Therefore, the term relator is used to refer to the whistleblower, even if the government doesn’t actually get involved in the case. This is because the qui tam lawsuit would still be pursued on the government’s behalf.
What Is a Qui Tam Plaintiff?
A qui tam plaintiff is the same thing as a qui tam relator. A plaintiff in a lawsuit is the person who is bringing the lawsuit against someone or against an organization. A qui tam plaintiff is a plaintiff in a qui tam lawsuit. In a qui tam lawsuit, the relator is another name for the plaintiff. You may hear the term relator more often, however, because in a qui tam lawsuit, typically the government is considered to be the true plaintiff.
What Is a Qui Tam Lawsuit?
In a qui tam lawsuit, someone (the relator) brings the lawsuit on behalf of the government, rather than the government initiating the lawsuit itself. These lawsuits are often brought under the False Claims Act, which allows a whistleblower to bring a lawsuit against a perpetrator of fraud on behalf of the government.
What Does Qui Tam Mean?
Qui tam, which is pronounced “kee tam,” is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase qui tam pro domino rege quam pro se ipso in hac parte sequitur. This longer phrase translates to “he who sues in this matter for the king as well as himself.” This refers to the fact that in a qui tam case, both the government (the king) and the relator (himself) would receive compensation. The relator would receive a portion or a percentage of the money that was recovered in the lawsuit.
What Is the False Claims Act?
The False Claims Act is legislation that was signed into law in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln. Its original purpose was to address fraud perpetrated by defense contractors during the Civil War. Originally, under the False Claims Act, or FCA, anyone who knowingly submitted a false claim to the government would be liable for twice that amount as well as a penalty for each false claim made. Now, perpetrators of false claims are held accountable for three times the amount.
The False Claims Act contains a whistleblower provision that allows private citizens to file suit against an organization or person who had defrauded the government on the government’s behalf. These cases are qui tam actions. In a qui tam action, the whistleblower, or relator, is eligible to receive a portion of any money recovered in the lawsuit.
Who Can Be a Qui Tam Relator?
Usually, a qui tam relator is someone who has insider knowledge of fraud that is being committed against the government. Often, this person used to work for the company, organization, or person who is suspected of committing fraud. Although the relator should be aware that fraud was being committed, it’s not necessary for that person to have personally witnessed the fraud taking place.
Any party that has a reasonable suspicion that fraud has occurred and has evidence indicating that fraud happened within a company that ultimately harmed the government is eligible to bring litigation on behalf of the government.
What If the Fraud Has Already Been Publicly Disclosed?
One of the most important components of qui tam cases whether or not the fraud has already been disclosed in a public manner. A qui tam plaintiff might not be entitled to bring a legal action in all cases in which the fraud has already been publicly disclosed. If the whistleblower had direct knowledge about the fraud outside of the publicly disclosed details, however, a qui tam plaintiff could still bring a case.
Should I Discuss My Options with a Qui Tam Lawyer?
To better understand what is public disclosure, a potential whistleblower can sit down with an experienced qui tam lawyer to discuss his or her options. Information has been publicly disclosed if it has been broadcast or printed in the news media. However public disclosure can also affect an ongoing or possible qui tam case if the information has been disclosed in a government report or hearing or in another civil or criminal lawsuit. It is not necessarily the case that the general public must have knowledge of this issue to meet the public disclosure requirement.
For this reason, anyone who believes they have information about fraud against the government should obtain legal advice as soon as possible to understand their next steps. Not everyone will qualify to be able to bring a Qui tam action.
What Kinds of Fraud Are Eligible for a Qui Tam Action?
Fraud has a very broad and inclusive meaning under the False Claims Act. In a qui tam case, the defendant doesn’t actually need to have knowingly submitted false information to the government. In order for it to qualify as a false claim, the defendant just has to have submitted the claim in deliberate ignorance of or reckless disregard of the truth.
This means that it isn’t only instances of deliberate fraud that are covered by the purpose of the False Claims Act. The defendant doesn’t have to have purposely misrepresented the facts in order to attempt to obtain benefits or payments from the government. The law also covers reckless conduct, which means that a whistleblower who becomes aware of reckless conduct can consult with a knowledgeable whistleblower protection lawyer to determine what to do next.
If a defendant should have known that the representations to the government or not accurate or true but did not take additional steps to check, this reckless behavior could constitute a violation of the law. Furthermore, in the event that and it purposely ignores information that could reveal the false nature of what is submitted to the government, this deliberate ignorance could also constitute a violation.
This means that deliberate fraud isn’t the only type of fraud that is eligible for a qui tam lawsuit. The defendant could have unknowingly submitted a false claim and still be liable under the False Claims Act so long as they failed to check the accuracy of what they were submitting or if they should have reasonably known that the information was false.
Are Qui Tam Relators Who Bring Claims Protected?
Many whistleblowers try to report fraud within their organization’s internal channels first, which can reveal their identities to those committing the fraud. The whistleblower’s identity may also be compromised during the litigation process even if the internal reporting channels protect the whistleblower’s identity. It’s understandable, then, that many whistleblowers may fear retaliation from their organization if they choose to report fraud or bring qui tam litigation against those committing fraud.
The government benefits substantially from the services of whistleblowers who call instances of fraud to their attention. For this reason, the False Claims Act provides numerous protections for whistleblowers who are concerned about their ability to remain in their positions after making a good-faith effort to report fraud.
Even in the event that the employer is upset about the allegations of fraud, employers are prohibited from taking adversarial actions against an employee due to the employee’s participation and protected activity. Protected activity can include disclosing the fraud, participating in a government investigation, or testifying in the case, among other actions. An employee who believes that his or her employer has violated this law could have grounds for filing a retaliation lawsuit.
Knowing legal options is important. For a whistleblower, sitting down with an attorney at the outset of the case could make a big difference in clarifying what a relator does and what can be expected after an investigation is opened. In addition to the False Claims Act, there is other legislation in place that can protect certain whistleblowers from retaliation.
How Does the False Claims Act Protect Whistleblowers?
The False Claims Act contains a provision to protect whistleblowers from retaliation. If retaliatory actions have taken place, the law requires that the employer provide relief to the whistleblower. This may include reinstatement to their position if they had been fired or demoted, paying up to double the amount of owed back pay, if any, paying compensation for any special damages, and covering any fees for litigation.
What Is the Whistleblower Protection Act?
The Whistleblower Protection Act, or WPA, is legislation passed in 1989 that protects any federal employee or applicant for a federal position from retaliation should they lawfully disclose any of the following:
- Abuses of authority
- Waste of funds
- Violations of:
- Dangers to public safety and health
Under this law, employers cannot take action against an employee or an applicant because of the protections for whistleblowers. Employers also cannot fail to take action against the employee or applicant if that failure would constitute a punishment or retaliation for the act of whistleblowing.
What Is the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act?
The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, or WPEA, is legislation passed in 2012 intended to strengthen protections for whistleblowers. This update to the WPA enhances the scope of actions and ensures that federal employees and applicants don’t lose protection even if:
- The wrongdoing had already been disclosed
- The wrongdoing had been reported to someone who was participating in the wrongdoing
- The employee had a motive for reporting the wrongdoing
- The employee disclosed the wrongdoing while off duty
- A long time has passed since the disclosure of the wrongdoing
- Disclosing wrongdoing as part of the employee’s normal duties
What Is the National Defence Authorization Act?
The National Defence Authorization Act was passed in 2013. It began a program called the Enhancement of Contractor Protection from Reprisal that was designed to protect contractors from retaliation. If a contractor discloses wrongdoing, they cannot be:
- Otherwise punished
What Is the NO FEAR Act?
The Notification and Federal Employee Antidiscrimination and Retaliation Act, or the NO FEAR Act, was signed into law by President Bush in 2002. The NO FEAR Act is designed to increase the accountability of federal agencies when it comes to discrimination and retaliation against whistleblowing. Under this act, agencies must post online any equal opportunity complaints so that they are publicly available. Data from both the most recent fiscal year as well as five years previous must be available so that they can be compared. This public posting of data is designed to help everyone from the public to Congress determine whether that federal agency is living up to its responsibilities when it comes to equal opportunity employment.
What Is the Sarbanes-Oxley Act?
The Sarbanes-Oxley Act, or SOX, was passed in 2002 in order to protect financial investors if a company made fraudulent reports. This legislation was developed in response to financial scandals such as the Enron scandal, among others. The act was intended to increase:
- Corporate responsibility
- Criminal punishment
This act also includes protection for employees who have lawfully reported on any wrongdoing by a company.
How Do I Report Retaliation?
Anyone who believes that they have been retaliated against for whistleblowing can contact the Consumer Product Safety Commission Office of the Inspector General or the Office of Special Counsel. There are other organizations, including the Whistleblowers Ombudsman, that are designed to educate federal employees about their rights as whistleblowers. The Office of Special Counsel investigates reports of prohibited activities and even has the power to prosecute.
How Can I Initiate a Qui Tam Action?
If you have a reasonable belief that fraud has taken place, there may be internal reporting channels that you could use to report the fraud first. If you have determined that the next step is to initiate a qui tam lawsuit, you’ll need to file a civil complaint under a seal to the court. You’ll also need to serve a copy of that complaint as well as any documentation and evidence you have to the Attorney General and the United States Attorney.
Before taking any legal action, it’s a good idea to consult with an attorney who is knowledgeable in qui tam actions and fraud lawsuits. An attorney can help you ensure that you’re filing the complaint correctly and that you have all of the necessary documentation and proof that you’ll need. An attorney can also help you understand what all of your options are and make sure that you’ve taken all necessary steps before initiating a qui tam lawsuit against the organization that committed fraud against the government.