After four years of struggle and hardship, four fearless whistleblowers who worked for contractors constructing the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Hanford Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant (WTP) were rewarded for their efforts to prevent and expose fraud at the Plant. The four whistleblowers were jointly represented by M&S and the Seattle firm Smith & Lowney.
The actions taken by the whistleblowers resulted in the government uncovering a ten-year period of overcharging for labor costs and related wrongdoing by construction giants Bechtel and AECOM. The government found that even after Bechtel and AECOM knew they were under investigation for improper billing they continued those practices.
The whistleblowers’ efforts resulted in a $57.75 million settlement between the government and the contractors, which is one of the largest involving a DOE facility. They received $13.75 million, nearly 24% of the government’s recovery, as their reward which is authorized under the federal False Claims Act (FCA). The share the whistleblowers received is one of the highest ever received in a case where the government has chosen to intervene. Each of the whistleblowers also settled their individual whistleblower retaliation claims.
M&S’s legal team included Richard Condit, Cleveland Lawrence III, Ezra Bronstein, Aisha Rich, and Dominic Charles. Mr. Condit expressed gratitude for everyone’s contributions. “We are extremely proud of our clients, co-counsel, and especially our team for achieving this important victory.”
A critical element of the government’s settlement is the three-year Corporate Compliance and Monitoring Agreement. The agreement provides unprecedented onsite access to documents and personnel by a team of reviewers who will monitor the contractors’ compliance with a wide variety of requirements. Quarterly reports of the findings by the reviewers will be submitted to DOE and the DOE Office of Inspector General. Breaches of the agreement can result in liquidated damages of up to $10 million awarded to the government.
“We hope this case and the compliance agreement will result in a drastic change of culture at Hanford,” noted Mr. Lawrence. “Time will tell.”
Learn more about the case here: https://
In an op-ed for Law360, M&S’s Ezra Bronstein argues that companies should be required to notify workers of whistleblower rights, writing that anything short of that “invites regulatory arbitrage, allows fraudsters to escape accountability and chills whistleblowers.” He also addresses incentive programs created by Congress recognizing the role of whistleblowers in recovering billions of dollars from dishonest government contractors and shady financial professionals.
In his piece Mr. Bronstein emphasized: “As it is, whistleblowers face severe consequences for stepping up to the plate. They are often retaliated against by employers, ostracized by former colleagues, and banned from entire industries among other things. Having worked extensively with whistleblowers, both as a government lawyer and in the private sector, I can safely say whistleblowing is not for the faint of heart.”
On September 23, the SEC finalized a series of amendments to its program. The amendments were two years in the making. The piece argues that existing regulations do not go far enough in trying to stop corporate efforts from silencing whistleblowers.
The solution, Mr. Bronstein writes, is that “agencies should require companies to affirmatively and unambiguously represent in confidentiality and separation agreements that current or former employees may voluntarily communicate with the SEC, CFTC, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Internal Revenue Service and retain any whistleblower award without retaliation or prior approval.”
Read the full op-ed here.