While most employment discrimination suits are brought against private employers, public employers are not immune from being called out on any wrongdoing. This is especially true if federal funds are involved. If you are a public employee and find out that your employer has been engaging in unethical practices, you have legal recourse, and in some situations, are duty bound, to bring a qui tam suit against your employer.
Qui Tam Lawsuit Definitions & Requirements
A qui tam or whistleblower lawsuit is authorized in South Carolina under the federal False Claims Act (FCA) – many states have their own version of the False Claims Act, but South Carolina’s only covers government employees, while the scope of the federal FCA is wider. Generally, the federal statute applies to cases in South Carolina, including the qui tam provisions, which permit whistleblowers to share in any reward. Common whistleblower suits usually involve issues like fraud or bribery.
The FCA enables a private citizen, known as a relator, to file suit against their employer on behalf of the United States government, alleging fraud either by federal contractors or involving federal funds (or both). While not all whistleblowers will take the step of becoming relators, all relators are properly classified as whistleblowers. Originally, the law was passed to discipline errant merchants and contractors during and immediately following the U.S. Civil War, but over time, the FCA has expanded to cover significantly more than war materiel.
Getting Through The Process
The process of filing suit can be extremely intimidating, especially if you fear retaliation. It is always a good idea to engage an experienced qui tam attorney to bring your case, however, both for practical reasons and because having a knowledgeable shoulder to lean on can make a big difference.
In order for a qui tam action to have sanction in the courts, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) must join the lawsuit – if the DOJ does not join, it telegraphs the belief that there is not sufficient evidence to mount a winnable case upon, lowering your odds of success. While it is possible to win a case without the DOJ joining as a plaintiff, it is much more difficult. An attorney being involved from the beginning will increase the odds that your case will be joined by the DOJ, because an attorney is trained to present the best evidence, in the best possible light.
An attorney can also help determine whether there are obstacles to your filing the suit. For example, federal employees are not barred from filing qui tam suits, but they must take into account issues of conflict of interest, which might actually lead them to disclosing the fraud to their employer, rather than filing suit.
Contact An Employment Law Attorney
If you discover that your employer is not conducting himself or herself according to the law, you may have a vested interest in seeing the conduct ceased. Contacting an attorney about your options is almost always a good idea. The skilled Charleston employment law firm of Hitchcock & Potts can help answer your questions and suggest the right path for your situation. Contact us today.