One of the first and most frequent arguments defendants make in fighting qui tam allegations under the False Claims Act (FCA) is that the case brought by the whistleblower, or “relator,” is not viable because it is based on publicly available information, the relator is not an “original source” of that information, or both. On February 19, 2020, the First Circuit Court of Appeals issued an important decision clarifying that to qualify as an original source, a relator need not have participated in the fraud or observed it in operation. Instead, a relator may qualify as an original source if the relator sees or receives information that is suggestive of fraud, hears suspicious conversations, and discovers additional evidence of fraud through personal investigation. United States ex rel. Banigan v. PharMerica, Inc., No. 18-1487, 2020 WL 813258, at *8-9 (1st Cir. Feb. 19, 2020).
We often write about the more common protections for employees in Minnesota, such as protections against discrimination, sexual harassment, retaliation for reporting law violations (i.e. whistle blowers), and protections for employees who take medical leave. But, did you know that Minnesota also provides lesser-known protections to employees? For example, Minnesota law allows employees to take up to 16 hours of time off work to attend their child’s school conferences and activities each year and for each child.
Heidi Weber talks in-depth with Clayton Halunen, founder of Halunen Law, in Season One, Episode Two of her podcast, the Whistleblower Revolution. They cover whistleblower laws, protections available to whistleblowers, steps to take when blowing the whistle, and what goes into bringing a case to trial. This podcast is a welcome reunion for Weber and Halunen. Halunen represented Weber in her 2013 landmark case against Globe University.
Get to Know Heidi Weber and Clayton Halunen
Halunen and Weber share the journey they experienced in their successful challenge of Globe University. Halunen offers insight into his long-standing professional motivation to hold companies and corporations responsible for illegal actions. He explores the impact his work has on creating societal change, and the obstacles whistleblowers face in bringing their concerns to light through a legal process. The podcast sheds light on the different types of whistleblowing claims, intricacies of the False Claims Act, the legal complexities of these cases, whistleblowers currently in the news, and much more.
We encourage you to listen and learn from these two engaging personalities as they offer personal perspective and professional expertise on those courageous enough to blow the whistle on wrongdoing.
About Heidi Weber: As Dean of the Globe Medical Assistant Program, Heidi Weber was fired in April 2011. She claimed the for-profit school engaged in consumer fraud by making misleading statements to students about its job placement rates and failing to meet its commitment to place all qualified medical assistant program students in externship programs, according to the court record. Rather than address her concerns constructively, Globe University officials chose to silence her by firing her. Represented by Clayton Halunen and Ross Stadheim of Halunen Law in Minneapolis, Weber won a $400,000 verdict in a civil court case in 2013.
About the Whistleblower Revolution: The launch of Weber’s Whistleblower Revolution podcast provides whistleblowers from around the country a unique space to share their stories. With her fierce spirit and empathetic approach, Weber highlights the daunting task of blowing the whistle and the personal toll the ordeal can take.
Halunen Law is proud to sponsor Season One of the Whistleblower Revolution podcast.
Episode 2: Whistle 101 with Clayton Halunen
This episode is 1 hour long
You’ve just been fired, or you suspect you’re about to be fired. And you think that your termination may be for an illegal reason (e.g., discrimination, retaliation, blowing the whistle). Now what?
1. Do Not Quit / Do Not Sign Anything. Most workers who suspect termination is imminent often believe it is better to quit than be fired. But depending on the circumstances, that might not be true. Voluntarily leaving your position before your employer takes any adverse employment action against you (e.g., a termination), could weaken your ability to make an employment claim. Often it is wiser to continue to do your job well, which means that your employer will have to terminate you to make you leave. However, there could be extenuating circumstances that would warrant a different decision. If you are tempted to quit your job, it would be wise to contact an employment attorney before quitting to discuss your particular situation and your options.
At your termination meeting, your employer may present you with a document called a separation or severance agreement, potentially with an offer of some amount of money. Again, the wise thing to do is to consult with an attorney before signing anything. If you signed this document already and are having second thoughts, you should immediately contact an employment attorney to review the agreement on your behalf. If you act quickly enough, you may be able to rescind your agreement.
Although Minnesota is an “employment at-will” state—meaning the employer may terminate an employee at any time for any reason—there are, in fact, exceptions to the rule. Since 1967 the Minnesota Human Rights Act has served as the State’s comprehensive employment rights law and provides a wide range of protections for employees. Yet even with the law in place, employers continue to violate employees’ rights in countless ways. Here are 20 of the most common violations for which an employee may seek monetary relief under the Minnesota Human Rights Act:
As a whistleblower, or “relator,” under the False Claims Act (FCA), you have filed a complaint against a company that defrauded the federal government. The government investigated your allegations and indicted the defendant company on federal criminal charges. At sentencing, the government seeks restitution of the amount it lost due to the defendant company’s fraud. Can you receive a whistleblower reward from the restitution paid in the criminal case?
The short answer is maybe, but probably not in the context of the criminal action itself. Continuing a trend favorable to whistleblowers, a recent court decision may help you receive an award from the restitution paid in the criminal action if your whistleblower case under the FCA is successful.
There are many different statutes that provide protections to whistleblowers, and in some instances, also provide specific procedures to follow. That is the case with the federal whistleblower in the news these days. That whistleblower works in the Intelligence Community, where blowing the whistle may involve classified information. The intelligence community defines whistleblowing as “the act of reporting waste, fraud, abuse, and corruption in a lawful manner to those who can correct the wrongdoing.” For more information about the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act, download the Congressional Research Service report on “Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protections.”
Sexual harassment or sexual assault can be actionable if it occurs on business travel or at work-related events. In fact, over half of the sexual assault cases we have handled involved assaults that occurred outside of the office and outside of work hours. If the harassment or assault can be shown to be related to the employment relationship and the incident is sufficiently severe or repetitive, you may have an actionable claim against your employer.
Minnesota law prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of sex, including sexual harassment. Sexual harassment “includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, sexually motivated physical contact or other verbal or physical conduct or communication of a sexual nature when . . . that conduct or communication has the purpose or effect of substantially interfering with an individual’s employment . . . or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive employment . . . environment.” Minn. Stat. § 363A.03, subd. 43(2).
We hear all too often from clients…
“I just got laid off, and my employer wants me to sign a severance agreement. They gave me a big chart with a list of people’s positions and ages on it. I’m confused, and I’m not sure what to do next.”
If you are an older worker (defined as age 40 or older), stop right there! You likely have a lot of questions in your head right now. We’re here to help you find some answers.
On this National Whistleblower Day, Halunen Law recognizes the tremendous contribution that whistleblowers make to our everyday lives— protecting our health, safety, and taxes. These contributions have been happening since the earliest days of the United States. The Founding Fathers unanimously supported whistleblowers in both words and deeds, including providing government records and monetary assistance to prevent retaliation against whistleblowers.  It is a privilege for us to carry on with that support and work with whistleblowers as they make companies accountable for their wrongdoing. Every whistleblower we honor today makes a difference. Thank you.
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Fax: (612) 605-4099