Jeffrey Simoneaux was a dedicated employee working for DuPont at a sulphuric acid plant in Ascension Parish, Louisiana. Simoneaux gave the company 22 years of his life. In 2011, he told supervisors that the plant was leaking sulphur trioxide, a dangerous carcinogenic chemical.
Simoneaux says the company wasn’t interested in fixing the problem. In fact, he says his supervisor told him not to make a written report of the leak. Simoneaux persisted on bringing the leak to management’s attention, in part because of a nearby elementary school. Ultimately, Simoneaux lost his job.
After separating from the company, Simoneaux filed a discrimination lawsuit (employers in most states can’t retaliate against workers who report safety concerns). That suit was settled, although the terms are confidential. The story doesn’t end there, however.
Simoneaux also filed a federal False Claims Act case. Often called the whistleblower law, the False Claims Act is a civil war era statute that allows private citizens with direct knowledge of fraud or false statements to file a suit in the name of the United States. The law also allows whistleblowers to keep a portion of whatever the government collects from the wrongdoer.
Most false claims act cases allege a loss to a government program. Simoneaux’ claim, however, is called a reverse false claim. Congress amended the whistleblower statute in 2009 to permit cases where a defendant knowingly avoids an obligation to pay money to the government. Simoneaux claims that federal environmental laws require a fine of $25,000 per day for leaking toxic gases into the atmosphere. By not reporting the leak, DuPont deprived the government of millions of dollars in fines.
DuPont, of course, denies the allegations in the complaint. They also say that the whistleblower law was never intended to cover fines not collected by the government.
Simoneaux advances a very unusual theory and faces an uphill battle. The Justice Department declined to intervene in his case almost 2 years ago but has not moved to block Simoneaux from prosecuting the case himself. Simoneaux hired a private whistleblower lawyer to pursue the case in the name of the government.
If Simoneaux wins, the court could triple the damages and give Simoneaux 30% of what his lawyers collect for the government.
It’s rare to see whistleblowers pursue claims once the government declines to prosecute. Its also rare to see reverse whistleblower claims. This case presents both issues.
If you have original source information about a fraud involving a government program, you may be eligible for a cash award. Although the court can award up to 30% of what is collected on behalf of taxpayers, the more common award is 15 to 20%. The first step in bringing a case is finding a great whistleblower lawyer. Who you hire as counsel can mean the difference between millions of dollars and no recovery.
Think you have a case and need more information? Give us a call. There is no charge, no obligation and the call is confidential. For more information, contact attorney Brian Mahany at or by telephone at (414) 704-6731.
Mahany & Ertl – America’s Whistleblower Lawyers
July 2015 – IMPORTANT UPDATE – Judge sets aside jury verdict in favor of DuPont. Whistleblower Jeffrey Simoneaux will get another day in court!