The Whistleblower Protection Blog’s most popular posts of 2016 covered a wide range of topics including Supreme Court case coverage, the National Whistleblower Center’s new program for wildlife whistleblowers, and crucial agency-related and legislative victories that improved whistleblower rights.
These are the top 10 blog posts of 2016:
Stephen Kohn, the National Whistleblower Center’s executive director, published the first article detailing the intersection between wildlife protection and whistleblower law, Monetary Rewards for Wildlife Whistleblowers: A Breakthrough for Environmental Protection in the Environmental Law Reporter (ELR). In the article, Kohn explains how existing laws can be used to establish a rewards program for whistleblowers who report wildlife crimes, and the massive impact such a program would have on combatting wildlife trafficking. Kohn’s paper was named ELR’s best article of 2016 and reprinted in the July/August Summer Reading issue of The Environmental Forum.
The United States Supreme Court upheld a whistleblower’s claim in Universal Health Services v. U.S. ex rel. Escobar. The Court affirmed the “implied certification theory” of liability under the False Claims Act (FCA). This theory permits the government to hold contractors liable for fraud when they fail to disclose material non-compliance with regulatory requirements.
In this case, the healthcare industry and its corporate allies argued that the government should pay bills submitted by unlicensed and unqualified “doctors,” even though their misconduct resulted in the death of a child. Here, the “doctor” was unlicensed and had a degree from an unaccredited internet college.
In 2016, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals marked the end of a long and difficult case for whistleblower Dinah Gunther. In 2009, Gunther reported fraud within her company and immediately suffered retaliation. Although she did not have access to an attorney, she and her husband, with the help of The Whistleblower’s Handbook and a lot of hard work, won her case in the District Court. Stephen M. Kohn successfully argued Mrs. Gunther’s case before the Court of Appeals.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved unanimously approved the FBI Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, a bi-partisan bill designed to reform the broken FBI whistleblower protection program. Stephen M. Kohn, Executive Director of the National Whistleblower Center, testified before the Committee regarding the need for this legislation.
In this special “Tax Day” blog, NWC Executive Director Stephen M. Kohn tells the story of how the tax whistleblower provisions changed the Swiss banking industry by incentivizing employees with inside information on tax fraud to come forward.
In 2007, the first major whistleblower to use this law, Bradley Birkenfeld, exposed decades of tax evasion at one of the biggest banks in the world, leading to the biggest, most successful tax fraud prosecution in U.S. history. Birkenfeld helped recover 13.769 billion dollars for American taxpayers. This case effectively ended the illegal Swiss banking industry and showed, once again, how important whistleblowers are in the fight against fraud and corruption.
The National Whistleblower Center filed an amicus (friend of the court) brief in support of the whistleblowers in State Farm Fire and Casualty Company v. U.S. ex rel. Rigsby. Having suffered a 758-million-dollar jury verdict for defrauding the Government following Hurricane Katrina, State Farm attempted judicial gymnastics to avoid paying the judgment—asking the Supreme Court to require mandatory dismissals in response to seal violations. The National Whistleblower Center argued against such an inflexible rule, affirming that the rule would be contrary to Congress’s intent.
The False Claims Act’s success has made it a prime target for groups like the Chamber of Commerce who promise to “fix” the law with questionable reforms. National Whistleblower Center Executive Director Stephen Kohn submitted testimony before this House Judiciary Committee opposing the proposed reforms that would weaken the FCA’s ability to punish unscrupulous corporations who commit fraud.
The National Whistleblower Center was selected as a Grand Prize winner in the Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge for its “Secured Internet Wildlife Crime Reporting System.” This program is an integral part of our Global Wildlife Whistleblowers Program. The program unites the power of whistleblower reward laws with wildlife protection, creating a system that will revolutionize wildlife protection worldwide.
The Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge, an initiative of USAID in partnership with the National Geographic Society, the Smithsonian Institution, and TRAFFIC, is finding new, innovative solutions to the most intractable issues in the fight against wildlife trafficking.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s whistleblower program hit several milestones over the course of 2016, including their first stand-alone action against a company for whistleblower retaliation. Just last year, the agency issued its first enforcement action for gagging employees. In that case the agency took action against KBR Inc., for its past conduct of silencing potential whistleblowers by using confidentiality agreements that threatened to terminate employees for reporting wrongdoing to anyone outside of the company.
The SEC whistleblower program also awarded over $57 million to 13 whistleblowers in fiscal year 2016, which is more than it has distributed to whistleblowers in all previous years combined.
National Whistleblower Day has been recognized regularly by the Senate for the past four years, especially by the recently formed Senate Whistleblower Protection Caucus. The Day recognizes whistleblowers for their courage and self-sacrifice, and for all that they’ve accomplished for the public good—from being the predominant enforcers against fraud of various kinds, to holding government agencies accountable for wrongdoing. The Day also commemorates the signing of the first whistleblower law by America’s Founding Fathers in 1778.
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