by Brian Mahany
In a perfect world, companies would reward whistleblowers. In my law firm, for example, I would want to know if someone was stealing or breaking the law. Unfortunately, in these tough economic times, some businesses intentionally cut corners and whistleblowers in those companies often face retaliation. Congress and most states have said that whistleblower retaliation is illegal. Those laws are helpful but it can be difficult for an employee that loses his or her job to survive while waiting for courts to decide a wrongful termination claim.
It took almost 5 years but whistleblower Paul Blakeslee of Anchorage, Alaska won a $3.5 million judgment against his former employer. A jury found that he suffered from illegal retaliation after reporting a supervisor suspected of fraud.
Blakeslee worked for Shaw Environmental and Infrastructure. Shortly after turning his boss, Blakeslee was fired. Although his boss was ultimately fired as well, Blakeslee never got his job back. After getting nowhere with corporate management, he filed suit.
After a 12 day trial, jurors awarded Blakeslee approximately $500, 000 in lost wages, an additional like sum for emotional distress and a $2.5 million punitive damage award. His total award? Almost $3.5 million. Punitive damages are meant to punish wrongdoers and deter similar conduct by others.
According to a story in the Alaska Daily News, Blakeslee said, “The thing that really got me is that their code of conduct said, if someone does not report a wrongdoing, a conflict of interest, they will be fired. I reported it. Now, there’s other people who went along with it, knew about it and didn’t report it, and they all got promoted.”
The company’s lawyer reportedly told the jury that the company shouldn’t be responsible for the conduct of “a few bad apples.” Evidently the jury decided otherwise.
At Mahany & Ertl, we understand that whistleblowers often face retaliation when coming forward. In its mildest forms, retaliation can mean being ostracized or denied career advancement. In the worst cases it can include blacklisting and termination.
Whistleblowers who come forward under the Federal False Claims act can receive a portion of whatever monies are recovered from the company for their wrongful acts. This is in addition to any jury award for retaliation claims. If you have “inside” information about a company that is defrauding the government or taxpayers, you may have a claim. Typically, whistleblowers receive 20 to 25% of whatever is collected.
The Alaska Daily News article doesn’t say how much Blakeslee received from his whistleblower complaint. Because the alleged fraud involved military procurement, it appears that Blakeslee may be entitled to a False Claims Act award as well.
If you worked for or with a company that misused government funds or defrauded a government funded program, we want to hear from you. For more information, contact attorney Brian Mahany at or by telephone at (414) 704-6731 (direct). All inquiries are protected by the attorney client privilege and kept in strict confidence.
Mahany Law – America’s Fraud and Whistleblower Lawyers. Offices in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Detroit, Michigan; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Portland, Maine and San Francisco, California. Services available in many jurisdictions.
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