Friday, November 06, 2015

Maryland False Claims Act of 2015: State Law Protection for Whistleblowers

The Maryland False Claims Act took effect June 1, 2015.  The main provisions of the Act: 
  1. Prohibit a person from knowingly making a false or fraudulent claim for payment or approval by the government; 
  2. Permit a private citizen to file a civil action on behalf of the government against a person who has made a false claim; 
  3. Require the court to award a certain percentage of the proceeds of the action to the private citizen initiating the action; and 
  4. Prohibit retaliatory actions by a person against an employee, contractor, or grantee for disclosing a false claim or engaging in other false claims-related activities.

For employees and contractors, the Act provides two avenues to pursue relief.  

"Qui-Tam Claims."  An employee who discovers a false claim can pursue a civil action on behalf of a governmental entity.   Such a civil action must be filed under seal and remain under seal for 60 to allow the governmental to review it.  The case only goes forward if the government chooses to pursue the claim.  If the governmental wins, the court must award the private party not less than 15% and not more than 25% of the proceeds, and in certain circumstances not more than 10% of the proceeds, proportional to the amount of time and effort that the party contributed to the final resolution of the action. 

"Retaliation Claims."  Employees and contractors who investigate, initiate, testify in, or assist a lawful action against a fraud are protected if they disclose a fraud to a supervisor or the government. They are also protected when they refuse to engage in a fraud against the state.    Victims of retaliation may sue to seek an injunction to stop the retaliation. They also may get double their back pay and punitive damages. The law provides a statute of limitations of at least three years.

Employee/whistle-blowers considering pursuing either avenue to relief should consult counsel since this can a difficult area to navigate.

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