New Bill Would Expand Whistleblower Protections to Antitrust Arena
02/11/2013 // Whistleblower Law Firm (Press Release) // Whistleblower lawyers at Keller Grover LLP // (press release)
Two U.S. senators have introduced a bill that would expand whistleblower protections to those who report illegal antitrust activity. The proposed legislation, the Criminal Antitrust Anti-Retaliation Act of 2013, would, the lawmakers say, help encourage and support individuals who want to “do the right thing” by going public with knowledge of wrongful behavior. The bill is also the latest example of a drive, both in Washington and among various states, to bring the provisions — and success — of whistleblower laws to a bigger array of wrongful behavior.
Introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) on January 22, the bill protects whistleblowers from retaliation — including discharge, demotion, suspension, threats, and harassment — for providing information relating to what they reasonably believed to be a violation of the antitrust laws. Under the proposed legislation, the whistleblower would be entitled to relief including reinstatement, back pay with interest, compensation for damages, and legal fees.
“This bill is yet another example of lawmakers seeing the real importance — and value — of existing whistleblower laws and protections, and wanting to apply them to other areas, like antitrust,” says Jeffrey F. Keller, a founding partner at Keller Grover, a nationally recognized labor and employment law firm, and a veteran whistleblower lawyer. “Whistleblowers can be of particular significance in the antitrust world, given the difficulties that the government often faces proving price fixing, market allocation, and bid rigging. Someone with inside information can really bring a boost to the case. You want to do everything you can to encourage them to go public.”
Whistleblower laws are not new. Indeed, the gold standard of whistleblower statutes — the federal False Claims Act — traces back to the U.S. Civil War and efforts to stem the fraud that was then rampant in government contracts. In recent years, the False Claims Act has been significantly amended, and has proven a potent weapon in the fight on fraud, enabling the government to recover tens of billions of dollars. It does so, in part, by allowing whistleblowers to share in any recovery the government ultimately obtains. But at the same time, it protects them from possible retaliation.
More recently, individual states have enacted their own whistleblower laws — often modeled on the False Claims Act — and federal agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service and Securities Exchange Commission have launched programs to incentivize those with knowledge of improper behavior to speak out.
“The bill introduced by Senators Grassley and Leahy is further proof that the government really wants whistleblowers to come forward and will take the steps needed to protect them,” says Keller, whose firm, with offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco, has a long history of experience in antitrust work. Keller was a member of the trial team in the landmark antitrust class action In re: Visa Check/MasterMoney Antitrust Litigation which settled in 2003 for a then unprecedented $3.05 billion. “Many people who have information about improper activity don’t even realize the extent and significance of their knowledge. That’s why whistleblower statutes and whistleblower lawyers are so essential — not just to encourage and protect these individuals, but to guide and support them.”
Upon its introduction, the bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary committee, which will consider it before possibly sending it on to the Senate as a whole.
“This will be an important bill to watch this term,” says Keller. “By strengthening the whistleblower laws we strengthen the government’s ability to right a lot of wrongs, and ultimately that has an impact — and great value — for all of us.”
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