Whistleblowers, also called “claimants” or “relators”, are often employees; but claimants have also been consumers, shareholders, competitors, and industry experts. However, claimants always need to remember that they are merely standing in for the government, which maintains some control over the case. When a case is filed in court, it’s filed under seal. This means the whistleblower’s identity will not be revealed on the public docket for the court, and the complaint will not be served on the defendants. The seal allows the government time to investigate the whistleblower’s allegations without the defendants’ knowledge. Claimants are barred from discussing the case with outside parties while the seal is in place. The whistleblower can only discuss the case with his or her legal team and the government.
Whistleblower laws range from those that simply promise to protect people who report wrongdoing to those that provide protection, anonymity and a monetary reward. These last are commonly referred to as “bounty” or “qui tam” programs. Whistleblowers today find themselves in the fortunate position of having an array of qui tam programs available. Filing in one or more of these programs can result in the claimant obtaining a portion of the amount the government recovers from a defendant or defendants.
Rules and circumstances surrounding qui tam claims vary a great deal. There are two basic types – those that require the government to pay the whistleblower and those that give the government the option of paying an award to the whistleblower. The False Claims Act mandates payment to the whistleblower if the government recovers money for the treasury as a result of the whistleblower’s complaint. The DEA can choose to pay a whistleblower for information and for a portion of a recovery.
Another way of looking at qui tam actions involves understanding whether the whistleblower files the claim in a court or through an agency. The False Claims Act requires the whistleblower to file a very detailed complaint in court under seal. The IRS requires the whistleblower to file special forms with the IRS Whistleblower Office. The SEC requires the whistleblower to file a TCR form and prefers whistleblowers to file online through the SEC website. Discretionary programs vary widely; we recommend entering into a contract when filing with these programs.
Retaliation Protection for Whistleblowers
Stengle Law focuses on whistleblower reward programs. Many whistleblowers confuse anti-retaliation litigation with whistleblower award programs. In some cases the successful claimant has suffered retaliation, but not in every instance. The federal False Claims Act and many of the state False Claims actions include anti-retaliation provisions along with monetary awards. The IRS program does not provide for a separate right of action to fight retaliation. For more information on retaliation, see our page Your Rights.