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Whistleblowers – What You Can Learn from Constance Lyttle

Who blew that whistle? Whistleblowers have protection under the law.

Ms. Lyttle’s experience can tell you what you need to know about being a whistleblower.

A few years ago, 52-year old telephone operator, Constance Lyttle was fed up with her job. She had become aware of an ongoing scam that involved fraudulent spending of federal funds, and took steps to stop it. She was fired when she refused to play along. She decided to sue her employer under the federal False Claims Act.

It would take nearly 3 years and the intervention of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Pittsburgh, but following the investigation and filing of claims, Ms. Lyttle was awarded $525,000 as part of a settlement the Department of Justice negotiated with the phone company.

What defines a whistleblower?

A whistleblower is simply someone who is in a position to report fraud or abuse.

What protections are provided to whistleblowers?

Federal whistleblower protection is primarily defined under two acts. The False Claims Act (FCA) applies to instances in which the United States government has been defrauded of money. Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) applies to instances in which employees in a publicly traded company commit fraud or other similar misconduct.

Under these laws, whistleblowers are protected from being the target of “adverse” employment actions. Those may include:

• Discharges, demotions and denials of overtime.
• Lost promotions, or benefits, even blacklisting.
• Formal discipline.

Constance Lyttle brought a law suit. But that doesn’t mean you have to. Whistleblower protection applies to employees who report suspected violations internally, to regulators, and possibly even to the media.

What determines if retaliation took place?

Usually, establishing retaliation requires four findings:

  1. An employee engaged in protected activity.
  2. The retaliator knew the employee made a report.
  3. The retaliator took an adverse action.
  4. The protected activity the employee engaged in was the motivating factor in the adverse action.

What happens as a result of blowing the whistle?

Maybe nothing. Neither the company nor the government is required to respond to allegations.

But maybe something. Constance got 15% of the $3.5 million the Justice Department received in a settlement with her former employer.

Constance has advice for other would-be whistleblowers: “If you believe what’s going on is really [wrong]…go for it. It’s the right thing to do as an American.”

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