Anonymity in Whistleblower Cases

Anonymity in whistleblower cases depends on what type of whistleblower case a person is filing, and what the circumstances are when filing such a case. Most people who file whistleblower actions do very much want to protect their identities. Filing a whistleblower case is a serious proposition. Obviously, employers do not usually appreciate it. So, whistleblowers tend to want to protect their identities as much as possible. The whistleblower reward laws vary in the ability to protect whistleblowers from being discovered. If you have more questions about whistleblower cases or wish to file a case, get in touch with a qualified Qui Tam attorney.

Federal False Claims Act Protections

The most famous whistleblower law is the False Claims Act. The Federal False Claims Act does include a seal provision. This provision means that the case is initially filed in secret, preserving a person’s anonymity in whistleblower cases. Only the government and the attorneys for the whistleblower will know that the case has been filed. For that reason, the whistleblower’s identity will be protected for some time. However, it is important to remember that the seal provision of the False Claims Act is not there to protect the whistleblower.

The requirement to file these cases under seal was enacted to allow the government to investigate the whistleblower’s allegations. As a result, whistleblowers cannot count on courts or the government continues to keep a case under seal to protect their identity. Eventually, it is most likely that if a person files a False Claims Act case, the person will be named by the court as the whistleblower. That process can take time. The whistleblower can benefit from the government’s investigation and remain hidden while the government conducts their investigation. Investigations into most False Claims Act allegations take a lot of work and time and like all investigations progress slowly.

Filing Under the False Claims Act

If a whistleblower wants to file under the False Claims Act and then find another job and move on with life, the seal period can provide some level of protection for the whistleblower. However, that protection is not permanent and will not always preserve someone’s anonymity in whistleblower cases. While the seal remains in place,  it is also possible without any intent to do so, the government may make it obvious who the whistleblower is. The defendants may eventually be asked questions, and if the whistleblower is one of the very few people who would know the allegations in their complaint, the defendants may suspect their identity.

It is possible that the whistleblower’s employer might know the identity of whistleblower even if the whistleblower’s identity is not revealed. Logic and deduction cannot be entirely prevented. Initially, the government would not contact the employer and would not identify the kind of case being investigated.  It is difficult to say the length of time involved in such investigations but the seal of the Federal False Claims Act does provide time during which the whistleblower can act without being discovered. This is a much more formal and stringent procedure, then is generally contemplated under other whistleblower laws, because a False Claims Act case is filed in federal court and is subject to federal court rules.

Whistleblower Protection Laws

Many whistleblowers come to the position of wanting to file a case after they have found out that their company is engaging in fraudulent activity or illegal activity, and after they have confronted the company with these facts. At that point, most whistleblowers find out that companies are not sympathetic to fixing or dealing with serious problems of fraud. As a result, there are many whistleblowers for which anonymity has already been lost in the sense that they have already been subject to some retaliation.

Whistleblower laws do include rights for to fight retaliation, but those rights are, usually, available after the fact. They generally do not prevent the initial retaliation a whistleblower suffers. These laws are often referred to as whistleblower protection laws but really, they are whistleblower right-to-sue laws. If a whistleblower is retaliated against for either attempting to file a false claim act case or attempting to prevent the activity, which would create a violation of the False Claims Act, that whistleblower has the right to sue.

If they can prove their retaliation, then they would be entitled to two times back pay, reinstatement, attorney’s fees and special damages. These are very, very valuable rights and one would hope that an employer knowing that whistleblowers have these rights would be less likely to conduct the type of retaliation that generates a whistleblower action and that makes whistleblowers want to be anonymous in the first place.

Burden of Anonymity

While remaining anonymous has its virtues it also can exact a toll. For False Claims Act whistleblowers, it can be extremely frustrating to have to remain anonymous not discuss the important case they filed in Court. The Seal of the court which keeps the case and the identity of the whistleblower hidden must also be observed by the plaintiff.

Anonymity, on the one hand, is a great value to whistleblowers. On the other hand, the seal of federal court is difficult to live with for many whistleblowers who want to be able to discuss the allegations and who want to be able to tell people what they are doing.

Unsealing the Case

Once the case proceeds to the point of either the government declining to accept the case or agreeing to intervene in the case, the case is likely to become unsealed. That is to say, the complaint will become a matter of public record and the whistleblower’s identity will at least appear on a court docket or on a paper record of the case. That can take a few years, but it is the most likely result of any whistleblower filing under the Federal False Claims Act.

On the other hand the False Claims Act, unlike other whistleblower reward laws, also allows the whistleblower to continue to pursue the claims in court even after the government declines to proceed. Other whistleblower reward laws generally do not provide such a right to pursue a case in court but some of them do provide a greater degree of anonymity in whistleblower cases.

Value of an Attorney

Working with a knowledgeable Qui Tam attorney can greatly benefit your case. A lawyer can guide you through the process of filing a whistleblower case and, can answer any questions you have about whistleblower cases. They can also coach you through the government investigation and process. If you want to pursue a whistleblower case, get in touch with an attorney who can build your case.