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Illinois Whistleblower Beats Summary Judgment, Heads to Trial in FCA Retaliation Case

On March 8, 2010, Judge Anderson issued an opinion broadly construing the scope of actionable retaliation under the False Claims Act (FCA), allowing whistleblower Ann Howard to proceed with her FCA retaliation claim in U.S. ex rel. Howard v. Urban Inv. Trust, Inc..  Howard was employed as an accountant for Urban, a property management company that worked for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA).  Urban contracted with Synergy Affiliates to manage its payroll, benefits, and human resources.  The two organizations considered themselves co-employers of Howard. 

Howard alleges that she discovered Urban was misusing and embezzling HUD and CHA funds.  She resisted pressure to participate in the criminal activity and in turn suffered harassment and retaliation.  Howard reported these issues to her human resources representative at Synergy who failed to take any action.  Howard then met with criminal investigators from CHA and informed Synergy of this meeting.  Howard continued to experience harassment and resigned. 

Synergy moved for summary judgment, claiming that in order for liability to attach, an employer must engage in an affirmative retaliatory action.  The judge rejected this argument, holding that the FCA’s anti-retaliation provision “covers situations in which an employee is ‘in any other manner discriminated against in the terms and conditions of employment.’”  Accordingly, by failing to execute its duties “with respect to a specific employee,” the employer “could be discriminat[ing] in the terms and conditions of the employment for that individual.”  A copy of the order is available here.

For information about The Employment Law Group® law firm’s False Claims Act Retaliation Practice, click here.

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