A qui tam claim is one form of a whistleblower case where a lawsuit is filed by a private citizen on behalf of the state or federal government against a person or business that is allegedly defrauding an arm of the state or federal government. The private individual who initiates the legal proceedings is known as a whistleblower and more formally, the relator because they bring potentially unlawful behavior to the government’s attention. Individuals who believe they have evidence of fraud against a local, state or the federal government should contact an experienced Illinois employment lawyer at The Cates Law Firm, LLC.
Bringing a whistleblower lawsuit is complicated and can be a significant risk to a person’s career and reputation. Most companies do not look fondly on employees who point out unlawful behaviors that could cost them a tremendous amount of money. That is why whistleblowing employees need attorneys to look out for their best interests and protect their rights.
Call The Cates Law Firm, LLC today at 618-277-3644 or contact us online to find out how we can help.
Whistleblowers May Be Rewarded
While many whistleblowers may have altruistic motivations, some are willing to step forward and begin this process for the government because if the claim is successful, the whistleblower can receive a percentage of the final award. Insignificant qui tam actions, there is the potential for a whistleblower to receive millions of dollars at the end of the case. However, these types of claims can also take a great deal of time, so the award is not immediate.
The Federal False Claims Act
Qui tam actions regarding fraud against an arm of the federal government are typically filed under the federal False Claims Act (FCA), 31 U.S.C. Sections 3729-3733. Anyone who has evidence of an individual or company defrauding the government in order to receive or retain funds or property has a potential qui tam action. This individual will become casually known as the whistleblower and formally known as the relator. Most whistleblowers work for the businesses that contract with the federal government such as healthcare employees at facilities that work with Medicare and Medicaid.
Fraudulent acts covered by the FCA include:
- Intentionally presenting false or fraudulent claims to the federal government for payment
- Intentionally using a false record, statement, or other document to have a claim paid by the government
- Intentionally using a false record, statement, or other document to avoid having to pay the federal government
- Conspiracy to perform any one of these actions
The Process of a Federal Whistleblower Claim
Filing a federal qui tam action can be complicated since there are many more rules that must be followed compared to other lawsuits. A qui tam action under the FCA must be filed under seal in federal court and then all the materials must be confidentially served to the U.S. Attorney General and the U.S. District Attorney in the jurisdiction where the lawsuit was filed. Filing the lawsuit under seal means the case is not public and it is secret even to the defendant. Violating this seal in any way could lead to sanctions or the dismissal of the case.
Once the action is filed and the government representatives are made aware of it, it is up to the government to research the allegations against the defendant and decide whether or not to join the case. Usually, if there is a great deal of evidence in the government’s favor, it will join the lawsuit and become a formal party. However, if the evidence is not particularly strong, the government may not expend time or money joining the case. At this point, the whistleblower can move forward with the suit or drop it. Due to the complexities of federal qui tam cases, it is crucial for an employee who is willing to step forward to work with a skilled Illinois attorney with experience handling whistleblower lawsuits.
Once the action becomes public and the defendant is aware of the allegations, they have the option to start negotiating a settlement with the government. If there is strong evidence against the defendant, settlements are common instead of going through with a trial.
Ultimately, if the case is successful, which means the government recovers money due to the lawsuit, then the whistleblower can expect to receive anywhere from 15 to 30 percent of the final judgment or settlement award.
Federal Whistleblower Protections
Coming forward about your employer’s malfeasance can be difficult and lead to a number of repercussions. Many whistleblowers find they are quickly fired, demoted, or harassed. Because of these issues, federal law specifically lays out protections for whistleblowers in the FCA. A whistleblower is entitled to bring an action against their employer for reinstatement, double the amount of their back pay, and additional compensation for other financial injuries.
The Illinois False Claims Act
Whistleblowers can also come forward regarding fraud against the Illinois government and file a qui tam action under the Illinois False Claims Act (IFCA), 740 ILCS 175/1 through 175/8. The Illinois government includes, but is not limited to, local governments, municipalities, counties, and state community colleges, colleges, and universities.
The IFCA closely resembles federal law. A private citizen can bring a claim in court, on behalf of Illinois or local government, against an individual or business that has fraudulently obtained or kept money or property from the state. The same types of fraudulent actions apply as with the federal statute, including intentionally presenting false claims to a government entity to gain money or using false documents to obtain or keep funds or property.
For anyone who wants to move forward with an Illinois qui tam action, it is crucial to work with an experienced Illinois whistleblower lawyer. There are a number of procedures that must be followed, including filing the case under seal and making disclosures to the state, which protects the whistleblower as the first person to come forward with this information. The Illinois Attorney General is served with the secret complaint and pursues the investigation into whether the state will join the action or not. The Attorney General also has the power to dismiss the claim entirely.
IFCA Also Protects Whistleblowers
Like the federal government, Illinois sees merit in protecting private individuals who are willing to risk their careers and reputations to correct any wrongs committed against the state. Employers are prohibited from retaliating against whistleblowers. However, if retaliation in the form of being fired, demoted, harassed, discriminated against or threatened occurs, then the whistleblower has a cause of action against the employer. The whistleblower can seek to have their job reinstated, be paid back pay with interest, and gain compensation for any other related injuries.
Illinois Whistleblower Lawyers at The Cates Law Firm are Here to Help
When an employee discovers their employer may be doing something illegal, the situation may be intimidating. Most employees are not sure of the next steps or how to protect themselves. The best thing they can do for themselves is to contact a legal team experienced with the whistleblower and qui tam actions like at The Cates Law Firm, LLC. We are ready to review your situation and guide you through the legal process.
Call us today at 618-277-3644 or contact us online to schedule an initial consultation. We proudly serve those all throughout Southern Illinois and the Metro East region, from St. Louis to the Indiana border, including the communities of Belleville, Carbondale, East St. Louis, Granite City, Edwardsville, Chester, Waterloo, Madison County, St. Clair County, Monroe County, and Randolph County.