Picture by Evan Granowitz
Let’s start with defining the term “whistleblower”. A whistleblower lawsuit is when a person reports a company that is guilty of illegal behavior such as fraudulent activity. Whistleblower laws provide incentive for the public to be honest about fraudulent and corrupt activity as the person who does the reporting is entitled to a percentage of the money that the government recovers from the suit – depending on the amount recovered this could be hundreds or thousands of dollars. Often times, the person reporting the offender is either a previous employee or a member of a private business or government organization.
Filing a lawsuit in general is never an easy process, but what is the easiest way to go about filing a whistleblower lawsuit?
- Keep quiet and find a lawyer, fast
It’s best not to discuss any information regarding your case. Once you identify fraudulent behavior, you should contact a lawyer for guidance on what to do next. Make sure to provide your lawyer with any documentation and correlating evidence you might have.
DO NOT take original copies from an employer – you don’t want to give the opposing side any reason to accuse you of theft later on down the road nor do you want “theft” to negate their fraud.
- Build a solid case
Cases are built on evidence, not hunches. The government is not going to pay for a generalized tip – the reason a whistleblower receives a payout is because you are assisting the government in their work. It’s not always safe to assume that a lawyer and a few government subpoena documents will prove your case. Come prepared.
- Welcome both questions and truths
Your lawyer will most likely question your case – your job is to convince them of its worth. If you have trouble proving your case to your lawyer, perhaps you don’t have a strong case to begin with. Sometimes initial doubt can save years of wasted time looking into facts if the law doesn’t work in your favor.
- Seek an honest lawyer with experience in whistleblower cases
You don’t want a lawyer with a hidden agenda. Seeking recommendations from others who have been in your situation is a good way to approach a prospective attorney-client relationship.
DO NOT hire an attorney who wants to charge you an hourly fee for representation on a whistleblower case – the lawyers who will represent your case well, work on a contingency fee basis.
You also want to make sure the lawyer you seek doesn’t already represent a client with a similar case – in some cases the lawyer could be using you for information.
- Be patient
Defendants don’t settle easily. It’s likely your attorney will tell you that the defendant will settle the case in order to avoid bad press, however more often than not – the company will disregard issues in the media and will unfortunately not settle the case quickly.
- Prepare to be outed
Your anonymity is never guaranteed. Although whistleblower cases are supposed to be filed under seal, the seal can be inadvertently lifted. Once you file the case – assume you’ve been outed.
- Seek a new job
According to Eric Ratinoff, an experienced whistleblower lawsuit attorney, the Whistleblower Protection Act prevents companies from retaliating against their employees who report their fraudulent activity (such as wrongful termination, demotion or discrimination in the workplace).
There are also other workplace laws to protect employees who are speaking up about illegal activity. Employees who complain about harassment and discrimination are covered under the same laws as employees who complain of unsafe work conditions, violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act, and violations of wage and hour laws. Although they are not referred to as “whistleblower” laws, they provide the same type of employee protection.
However if you plan to quit your current job and move to another company after the suit has been filed, it’s best to start looking sooner rather than later. Although it is illegal to treat a whistleblower any differently than a normal employee, being outed as a whistleblower can unfortunately make the job hunt harder. It’s important to not sit around and wait for compensation from the lawsuit – these cases have the potential to take years to finish.
- Plan for success
When and if your case has reached the point of success, it’s suggested that you contact an estate planner. You want to be smart with the money you’ve received in compensation. Of course don’t forget about the lawyer fees.
- Find a friend
It might be helpful to befriend somebody who has been in your situation. Another whistleblower will have empathy for your situation and provide guidance. While your whistleblower lawsuit is under seal the court requires that you only discuss the case with your lawyers, which can often times make the process difficult.
- Be grateful and pay it forward
Filing any type of lawsuit is not easy. The same people who have embezzled money and cheated the system will likely still get paid and later on promoted- it’s important to move forward past the situation and do the best you can to help future whistleblowers. The laws that protect employees and whistleblowers are under constant attack, so supporting the system is an important step after your lawsuit is over. Companies such as Taxpayers Against Fraud, who help fight fraud, are supported by successful whistleblowers and their stories.