A pharmacy technician who worked for a federal contractor sued when she was fired after reporting fraud. Her claim was based on laws designed to protect whistleblowers.
Now six years later, she has reached a settlement with Maxim Healthcare Service.
Fraud Alleged at Immigration Center
Maxim is a contractor for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Laura Wondercheck worked for the company as a pharmacy technician at the South Texas Family Residential Facility, an immigration center in Dilley, Texas. Wondercheck noticed that her supervisor ordered medications through the center for personal use for himself and his family. Rogaine, fish oil, and Metformin were among the drugs the pharmacist ordered that were never meant to be given to immigrants at the center.
Knowing that federal dollars were buying these medications, Wondercheck used Maxim’s integrity hotline in June 2016 to report what she had witnessed. After the fraud on the government was reported, the pharmacist was escorted out of the facility. Wondercheck was suspended pending an investigation. She was fired on July 11 because she supposedly waited too long to report the fraud.
Administrative Remedies Were Ineffective
The pharmacist technician filed a whistleblower retaliation complaint with the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for DHS about her firing. An investigation into the termination was opened. The OIG concluded its investigation without making any report of determination.
Seeking Relief in a Civil Lawsuit
For almost a year, Wonderchuck exhausted all remedies under the statute, leading her to eventually be compelled to file a lawsuit in June 2019. By mid-2020, both sides had submitted motions for summary judgment, which were denied in October 2020 by a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas. A trial was initially scheduled for December 2020 but was later canceled.
Her lawsuit asked for the following relief:
- All actual damages, including past and future lost wages, past and future lost benefits, lost benefits of the contract, consequential damages, reinstatement of lost fringe benefits or seniority rights
- Mental anguish/ compensatory damages
- Exemplary/ punitive damages
- Pre-judgment and post-judgment interest as allowed by law
- Court costs and expenses, and litigation expenses, including but not limited to the
- expenses for any expert witnesses
- Injunctive relief prohibiting Defendant from further engaging in unlawful practices
- Equitable relief, including reinstatement, front pay
- Attorney’s fees
The False Claims Act
In her lawsuit, she stated that Maxim violated the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. § 3730(h). The act’s purpose is to discourage fraud against the government and whistleblowers are encouraged to report any such knowledge.
The whistleblower provision of the False Claims Act prevents the harassment, retaliation, or threatening of employees who assist in or bring qui tam actions. In a qui tam action, an individual (called a relator) brings an action on behalf of the government. The government is considered the real plaintiff. If the government succeeds, the relator receives a share of the award.
Whistleblower Retaliation Is Illegal
Federal laws protect whistleblowers in Texas from wrongful termination and other forms of retaliation. Contact the employment lawyers at Shellist Lazarz Slobin if you know of misconduct that needs to be exposed. Our comprehensive experience and knowledge can guide you through administrative procedures or civil lawsuits.
Need legal help for your whistleblower case? Schedule a consultation with Shellist Lazarz Slobin by calling (713) 352-3433.