Legal protections for whistleblowers are critical to the enforcement of many laws. These protections generally ban retaliation against employees who report wrongdoing by their employers to management, government agencies, or the public. They are incredibly important for ensuring that employers follow the law.
There are many different statutes that provide protection for whistleblowers, and Hall & Lampros employment discrimination attorneys are experienced in using them to protect those who stand up for what’s right. These laws include:
- The Georgia Whistleblower Act
- The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002
- Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act
- The False Claims Act
There are also dozens of other federal statutes that protect employees from reporting legal violations in the workplace, and which may entitle you to relief if you are retaliated against for making such reports. These include laws like the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), which protects workers from retaliation for reporting unsafe conditions at work; the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA), which bans retaliation against workers who refuse to violate laws relating to safety for commercial vehicles; or the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), which prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who report illegal environmental pollution. The experienced employment discrimination attorneys at Hall & Lampros know these laws and how to pursue relief for you if your employer has punished you for standing up for what’s right.
The Georgia Whistleblower Act
The Georgia Whistleblower Act (GWA) is a law designed to protect employees who report fraud, waste, or abuse. The law applies to public employers, and prohibits retaliation against public employees in Georgia who disclose violations of laws, rules, or regulations.
In order to prevail on a claim of whistleblower retaliation under the GWA, an employee must show that (1) he was employed by a public employer; (2) he made a protected disclosure or objection; (3) he suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) there is some causal relationship between the protected activity and the adverse employment action.
Protected disclosures may be any disclosure of a violation of a law, rule, or regulation, but there are some limits. Purely personal concerns, rather than reports of policy violations, are not the type of disclosures the law was meant to protect. Neither are mere reports of concerns that rules will not be followed.
Once the employee establishes these threshold elements, the burden shifts to the employer to articulate a legitimate non-retaliatory reason for the adverse employment action. If the employer does so, the burden shifts back to the employee to prove that the employer’s rationale is pretext for retaliation.. It can be challenging to prove with circumstantial evidence. However, Hall & Lampros employment discrimination attorneys are experienced in proving pretext, including at trial. Call us today at 404-876-8100 or submit a confidential inquiry online for a free, no obligation consultation about your rights if your employer has punished you for reporting wrongdoing in the workplace.
The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002
The Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) was passed to combat corporate fraud, and protects whistleblowers who report fraudulent activities either to management or government regulators like the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). SOX applies to publicly traded companies as well as wholly-owned subsidiaries and foreign companies that are publicly traded and do business in the USA.
The elements of a Sarbanes-Oxley whistleblower retaliation claim are similar to those of other whistleblower retaliation claims. They include:
- You engaged in protected activity, which means reporting securities, bank, mail, or wire fraud, or any violation of a regulation of the SEC< or other federal law prohibiting shareholder fraud;
- Your employer took an adverse employment action against;
- There is a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse employment action.
Under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the standard for proving the causal connection is less stringent than it is for other whistleblower retaliation statutes. The employee need only prove that her protected activity was a contributing factor in the decision to take the adverse employment action. There are administrative requirements that must be met before you can pursue a SOX claim but you can recover back pay and lost benefits, compensatory damages for emotional pain and suffering, reinstatement, and attorney’s fees and costs. If you have reported fraud in your company and been retaliated against for it, contact us today at 404-876-8100 or submit a confidential inquiry online for a free, no obligation consultation about your rights.
The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act
The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, usually referred to as “Dodd-Frank,” is another law that regulates financial services companies. It created new federal agencies to investigate and provide oversight for these companies, and also created a whistleblower retaliation provision. The whistleblower retaliation provision of Dodd-Frank prohibits covered employers from retaliating against employees for providing original information to the SEC, participating in investigations, making disclosures, and other reporting violations of SOX or other laws over which the SEC has jurisdiction.
The elements of the Dodd-Frank whistleblower retaliation claim are similar to those of SOX and other whistleblower retaliation claims. However, an additional provision of Dodd-Frank provides for rewards to those who provide original information to the SEC that results in an enforcement action that yields more than $1,000,000 in sanctions. In such a case, the party who provides that original information to the SEC is entitled to receive between 10% and 30% of the total monetary awards. Complaints may also be made to the SEC anonymously.
The False Claims Act
The False Claims Act (FCA) is one of the oldest whistleblower protections in the United States. It was originally passed during the American Civil War to address the problem of contractors who defrauded the U.S. government by selling decrepit horses and mules, bad rifles, and similar subpar goods. The FCA makes it illegal to knowingly present to the government a false or fraudulent claim for payment or reimbursement from the government.
The FCA has several important provisions to enforce this main prohibition. One is called the “qui tam” provision, in which a person who discovers fraud against the government is empowered to bring a suit on behalf of the government to recover the fraudulently obtained money, and receive a reward for doing so. This is a throwback to an old historical legal tradition of suing on behalf of the King of England, and the phrase “qui tam” is short for the latin phrase qui tam pro domino rege quam pro se ipso in hac parte sequitur, which means “he who brings a case on behalf of our lord the King, as well as for himself.” In qui tam cases brought under the FCA, the person who brings the lawsuit is known as the “relator,” and is entitled to percentage of the government’s money that is recovered in the case. Because these cases often involved widespread fraudulent practices, the amount recovered can be in the millions of tens of millions of dollars or more.
Another important provision in the FCA is the whistleblower retaliation provision. This provision makes it illegal for an employer to take adverse employment action against an employee for investigating, reporting, or trying to stop fraud against the U.S. government. Damages for a successful FCA retaliation case include back pay and lost benefits of employment, an additional award equal to the back pay and lost benefits, as well as special damages and attorney’s fees and costs of litigation.
Consult with an Experienced Atlanta Employment Discrimination Attorney Today
If you are the victim of whistleblower retaliation in the workplace, the losses you face can be immense, but the experienced employment discrimination attorneys at Hall & Lampros, LLP, have the knowledge, legal insight, and compassion to help. Learn more by contacting us at (404) 876-8100 or submitting a confidential inquiry online for a free consultation.