What is a Whistleblower?

by Veronica Nannis
June 27th, 2019

Some famous whistleblowers have made headlines in recent years, but there is not a lot known about what the typical whistleblower does. Edward Snowden or Linda Tripp are famous, or infamous, examples of well-known whistleblowers. But, the typical whistleblower is not in it for the money and does not get any fame. Instead, they are the kind of person who refuses to be a bystander, or worse, a participant, in fraud.

The False Claims Act is the federal law that allows citizens to stand in the shoes of the government and bring a claim for fraud on its behalf. Those who file “qui tam” lawsuits under this act are whistleblowers, or “relators.” While the government retains any monetary settlement or judgment for itself, a successful qui tam lawsuit results in an award to the whistleblower of between 15 and 30 percent of the government’s recovery. This is based on such factors as how timely and helpful the information is and how much the whistleblower helps the government reach resolution.

Relators can be anyone who sees fraud being perpetrated on the government. They are typically employees or former employees of the defendant, like a sales representative, but this is not a requirement. Sometimes instead of employees, they are patients or others who witness fraud. The key is that the whistleblower has personal knowledge of fraud and can describe how the scheme works.

Once the whistleblower files his or her lawsuit under seal, the government steps in and investigates the claim. During the investigation, and for as long as the case remains under seal, the defendant is not aware of the qui tam lawsuit or the whistleblower’s identity. 

The first step, even before gathering information, is to talk to an experience qui tam attorney. A seasoned qui tam attorney will carefully evaluate your case and decide whether and how to report the fraud. He or she will also help you navigate the many pitfalls of these cases, including: (1) filing the case under seal; (2) working with the government during its investigation; (3) litigating the case in federal court; and (4) dealing with potential fallout, including retaliation, that can result from blowing the whistle.

If you are considering blowing the whistle, here are some key things to consider.

Veronica Nannis is a Principal and the litigation practice group manager at Joseph, Greenwald & Laake, P.A. She focuses on complex, civil litigation, including business disputes, employment litigation and False Claim Act cases involving health care fraud. You can find her on LinkedIn or email her at: vnannis@jgllaw.com.