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Nation’s Largest Accreditor of For-Profit Colleges Loses Federal Recognition

The Department of Education (DoE) terminated federal recognition of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) on September 22, 2016. Earlier this year, the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) recommended ACICS for shutdown to the DoE.

On June 23, 2016, NACIQI recommended to the Senior Department Official (SDO) of the DoE that ACICS be denied recognition as an accreditor. ACICS is no stranger to scrutiny, accrediting controversial schools like Corinthian Colleges, and the recently shutdown ITT Technical Institute. Despite many questionable accreditation decisions made by ACICS over the years, ACICS remained a trusted business partner by the DoE for many years.

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Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals Upholds ARB Decision in Favor of Truck Driver Who was Fired After He Abandoned His Disabled Vehicle to Avoid Freezing to Death

In a recent case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, the Court upheld an Administrative Review Board (ARB) decision finding that a truck driver was terminated in violation of the whistleblower provisions of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA).  The truck driver, Alphonse Maddin, unhitched his truck from a trailer and drove away to avoid freezing to death after the brakes on the trailer froze due and roadside assistance failed to respond.  Maddin had reported to his employer, TransAm Trucking, both the condition of the trailer and the threat to his health due to the freezing weather conditions.  The Court held that Maddin had engaged in protected activity under the STAA by reporting the frozen brakes and the threat to his health; and that the driver’s termination for leaving the trailer to seek safety violated the whistleblower protection provisions of the STAA.

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Whistleblower Exposes Hedge Fund for Misleading Investors

Dhir v. Carlyle Group, 3:16-cv-00219, U.S. District Court, District of Connecticut

A hedge fund employee decided to blow the whistle on the company’s misstatements to investors regarding its financial investments in certain derivative products. The plaintiff, Nikhil Dhir, a former portfolio manager at the hedge fund, claims that the firm misstated both the amount of assets the firm had invested in these derivative products, as well as the risk associated with the products. Dhir alleges that Vermillion hedge fund founders, Chris Nygaard and Drew Gilbert, “knowingly and intentionally” advertised the fund has having low risk and volatility, even though freight derivatives are highly volatile and not liquid.

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Michigan Court Upholds Right to Pursue FRSA Cases in Federal Court

In a recent case in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, the court denied Grand Trunk Railroad’s Motion to Dismiss, holding that a plaintiff may pursue a Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) whistleblower retaliation claim in federal court, even after he has pursued the same claim administratively with the Department of Labor. The court held that pursuing remedies in both venues did not constitute bad faith on the part of the complainant, did not present a res judicata (claim preclusion) issue, and did not violate the due process rights of the defendant railroad. This case is important because it affirms the options available to a whistleblower to fully adjudicate claims of unlawful retaliation.

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ARB Upholds “Reasonable Belief” Standard for Fraud Claims Under SOX

The Department of Labor’s Administrative Review Board affirmed an Administrative Law Judge’s (ALJ) decision that found the following: Timothy Dietz reported violations of the federal mail and wire fraud statutes to his former employer Cypress Semiconductor Corporation and, in retaliation, Cypress placed an undeserved disciplinary memo in his personnel file, and then constructively discharged him, thereby violating the whistleblower provision of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX).  The ARB’s decision was issued in Dietz v. Cypress Semiconductor Corp., ARB Case No. 15-017, ALJ Case No. 2014-SOX-002

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ARB Resolves a 20 Year Dispute Involving Racially Motivated Hiring at Bank of America

In April 2016, the Department of Labor’s Administrative Review Board (ARB) settled a twenty-year dispute in Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, United States Department of Labor v. Bank of America.  Judge Luis A. Corchado authored the ARB opinion affirming an Administrative Law Judge’s (ALJ) August 2004 ruling regarding discriminatory hiring practices allegedly used by Bank of America (BOA) to exclude African American applicants in 1993. But relying on statistical analysis, Judge Corchado reversed the ALJ’s ruling that BOA utilized similar discriminatory hiring practices between 2002 and 2005. Judge Corchado’s opinion defined the contours of legally persuasive statistical analysis.The ARB cited a long-established principle regarding the role of statistical analysis in employment discrimination cases: “[S]tatistical evidence may be used to rule out chance.” Bank of America, ARB No. 13-099, LJ No. 1997-OFC-016 slip op. at 13 (ARB April 21, 2016)(Corchado L.). Courts have consistently considered disparities exceeding two standard deviations to be significant.  And the more extreme the statistical disparity, the less additional evidence a Plaintiff need present to prove that racial discrimination  caused the variation.

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Connecticut District Court Applies Dodd-Frank Retroactively and Sends SOX Whistleblower Case to Trial

In Richard Trusz v. UBS Realty and UBS AG, Case No. 3:09-cv-00268,  Richard Trusz, a high-ranking executive for UBS, complained that the company followed improper procedures in its real estate valuation. These problems, Trusz claimed, resulted in valuation errors totaling as much as $27 million.

Trusz reported his concerns about these valuation procedures both internally and externally prior to the termination of his employment in 2008. According to UBS, it eliminated Trusz’s position because the company decided to outsource its valuation review duties. Trusz alleged three types of whistleblower retaliation claims, one a federal claim under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and two state law claims.» Read more

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Whistleblowers Awarded $24 Million in Nursing Home Fraud Settlement

On January 12, 2016, a nursing home company and two subsidiaries agreed to pay $125 million to settle a False Claims Act lawsuit alleging that they caused skilled nursing facilities to submit false claims to the government.  The relators’ combined share of $24 million represents just over 19 percent of the government’s recovery.  The case is United States ex rel. Halpin and Fahey v. Kindred Healthcare, Inc., et al., Case No. 1:11cv12139-RGS, and was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

The qui tam action, in which the government intervened, was originally filed by two relators.  Janet Haplin is a physical therapist and former rehabilitation manager for Rehab Care; and Shawn Fahey is an occupational therapist who worked for RehabCare.

Kindred Healthcare purchased RehabCare Group, Inc. and RehabCare Group East Inc. in 2011.  The government’s complaint alleged that the companies submitted claims to Medicare for “rehabilitation therapy services that were not reasonable, necessary and skilled, or that never occurred,” according to the Department of Justice.» Read more

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Supreme Court Is Poised to Endorse ‘Implied Certification’ in FCA Cases

By R. Scott Oswald
Managing Principal, The Employment Law Group, P.C.

If a government supplier quietly ignores vital rules but still bills taxpayers as if it had complied, can it be held liable under the federal False Claims Act — even if it never directly lies about its compliance?

In today’s arguments in Universal Health Services Inc. v. United States ex rel. Escobar, the U.S. Supreme Court heard two diametrically opposed views. There was little doubt about which side the justices preferred; their resulting debate was limited to sorting out the details.

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Federal Judge in Tennessee Reiterates “Permissive Threshold” of Contributing Factor Standard in Whistleblower Retaliation Cases

In a recent Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) whistleblower retaliation claim, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee reiterated the “permissive threshold” standard of the “contributing factor” test under the FRSA. This case demonstrates the importance of this standard in allowing whistleblowers to pursue retaliation claims, and ultimately to protect public safety.

Under the FRSA, an employee claiming that his employer has subjected him to unlawful retaliation for whistleblowing must show that: 1) he engaged in protected activity; 2) his employer had knowledge of his protected activity; 3) that he suffered an unfavorable personnel action; and 4) that his protected activity was a contributing factor in the unfavorable personnel action. After the employee makes out a prima facie case that his protected activity was a contributing factor, the employer must show that it would have taken the same adverse personnel action absent the employee’s protected activity.» Read more

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