The Sixth Circuit Court ruled on March 31 that the whistleblower protection provisions of the False Claims Act (FCA) include protections for former employees who are subject to retaliation from employers after their employment ceases.
The case, United States ex rel. Felten v. William Beaumont Hospital, centered on a plaintiff who worked as a doctor at William Beaumont Hospital in Michigan. The doctor filed a quit am claim against the hospital, claiming it paid kickbacks to multiple physicians and physician groups for referrals. He also alleged the hospital fired him, then continued to malign his character after doing so, to retaliate against him blowing the whistle on the illicit conduct.
The district court that heard the case dismissed the doctor’s retaliation claims relating to conduct after termination, ruling the FCA’s policies regarding retaliation only apply to anything that happens during employment.
The appeals court disagreed, citing precedent from Robinson v. Shell Oil, in which the court ruled Title VII covers former employees as well as current employees. The court said the term “employee” is ambiguous, and thus could mean either current or former.
The court also stated potential whistleblowers could be discouraged from coming forward with information about fraud or other wrongdoing if employers are able to continue retaliating against them without any fear of penalty or reprisal so long as they first fire them.
To learn more about the steps you should take if you’ve been retaliated against by a current or former employer, contact an experienced whistleblower lawyer at Kardell Law Group for legal counsel.