I was talking to a friend the other day about a whistleblower I represented in a Medicare billing fraud case. “What’s a whistleblower?” she asked. I explained that this is someone who objects to his employer committing crimes. “Oh, you mean a snitch!” As my friend said this I could see the light bulb go off in her head. Well, not exactly I explained.
Whistleblowers expose fraud, corruption and dangerous conditions at large corporations, local, state and the federal governments, non-profit companies and local businesses alike. As a result of their actions, whistleblowers face discrimination and retaliation, including termination. They are often subjected to various forms of harassment by their employer.
Erin Brockovich is a well-known whistleblower. As a law clerk without any real legal training, Brockovich uncovered a series of mysterious illnesses in the town of Hinckley, California. While conducting research, she discovered that these health issues were linked to the presence of hexavalent chromium in waste water from a nearby Pacific Gas & Electric plant.
Karen Silkwood was a union activist and technician at the Kerr-McGee nuclear reprocessing plant in Crescent, Oklahoma. She reported numerous workplace safety violations, including faulty respirator equipment, worker exposure to contamination and the failure to provide adequate showering facilities. She died in a mysterious car accident on November 13, 1974, while on her way to deliver evidence to a New York Times reporter. Her story was adapted by Hollywood and was later the focus of a Frontline (PBS) investigation,
Cynthia Cooper, as the vice president for internal audits at WorldCom, the nation’s second largest phone company, uncovered one of the biggest frauds in history. The trouble for Cooper began when she started looking into unusual accounting practices she came across at work. She was ridiculed and insulted by the chief financial officer, but she continued her investigation. Cooper eventually unearthed $3.8 billion in fraud at WorldCom, and went public with her story.
Whistleblowers risk their jobs by refusing to commit unlawful acts. They report employers to the authorities for committing crimes. Whistleblowers stop fraud, corruption and government waste. They protect the health and safety of co-workers and the public at large exposed to dangerous conditions. These are not “snitches.” These are brave people who sacrifice their own self-interest for the greater good. Fortunately, there are a host of state and federal laws which provide broad protection and compensation to whistleblowers.