FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 14, 2022
WASHINGTON, DC (March 14, 2022) – As the result of a whistleblower alerting the government to false claims, it was announced on Friday that global health non-profit Project Concern International (PCI) agreed to pay $537,500 to settle the False Claims Act action, United States. ex rel. Seims v. Project Concern International, Inc.
The settlement comes after whistleblower La Rue Seims, a public health expert and international development professional, alerted the government that PCI was mischarging the time staff spent on government grants, including using some grant funds to cover costs of privately-funded projects. The settlement addressed the period 2014 to 2016, while the lawsuit provided information suggesting the issues preceded the start of Ms. Seims’ employment and post-dated her departure.
PCI headquarters staff were given written and verbal instructions from PCI managers to charge time to U.S. government grant programs on which they did not work, and they refused to accept timesheets based upon the work actually done. Ms. Seims’ repeated questioning of PCI’s timekeeping practices and refusal to engage in mischarging resulted in bullying and harassment on the job. Ultimately, Ms. Seims resigned rather than continue to work in a hostile environment.
“Ms. Seims refused to partake in unethical practices at PCI and as a result faced harassment and lost her job,” said Richard Condit, a partner at Mehri & Skalet, one of the firms representing Ms. Seims. “By bravely coming forward as a whistleblower, Ms. Seims helped the government recover taxpayer money and hold PCI accountable.”
Ms. Seims stated that she felt the action was necessary to stop the pressure being put on staff to engage in unethical and illegal activity. “Staff, especially young people just starting their development careers, should be mentored by more seasoned employees, supervisors and managers in positions of trust. They should not be pressured to choose between their jobs and doing what’s right. Managers should be their role models, fostering ethical standards to follow throughout their careers. I’ve never seen this type of behavior from managers at other non-profits where I’ve worked.”
The Alden Law Group and Mehri & Skalet PLLC, a Washington-based law firm with a Whistleblowers Rights Practice Group, assisted Ms. Seims in filing a qui tam complaint on behalf of The United States of America under the Federal False Claims Act (FCA). The complaint was filed under seal in February 2020. The government conducted a thorough investigation, resulting in confirmation of Ms. Seims’ claims and the government’s intervention.
PCI will pay a total of $537,500, which includes reimbursement for the estimated amount of mischarged costs, an additional penalty under the False Claims Act, and attorney’s fees. Ms. Seims will receive a relator’s share of the government’s recovery.