A Missouri Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s ruling in favor of a whistleblower who alleged her employer, Centene Corporation, fired her in retaliation for her raising concerns about potential False Claims Act violations.
Ms. Pitcher claimed the health insurer fired her for refusing to unlawfully bill Medicaid for services that did not meet the criteria for Medicaid reimbursement. Companies that defraud federally subsidized health care programs may be held accountable for False Claims Act violations.
In upholding the lower court’s ruling in the retaliation case, the appellate court affirmed an award of more than $2.1 million. The award includes $80,012 in compensatory damages and $750,000 in punitive damages against Centene and a subsidiary pharmacy named as a co-defendant in the case.
The court also awarded Ms. Pitcher $525,449 for front pay to compensate her for lost wages up to retirement age.
According to Front Line Whistleblower News, Centene and the co-defendant, AcariaHealth Pharmacy, argued in their appeal that the award was excessive in light of the compensatory and high punitive damages the court already awarded to Ms. Pitcher.
The appeals court shot down the argument, finding that Centene “cannot claim the jury addressed front pay in its award because Appellants ensured this issue was reserved for the court” when it successfully fought to have the testimony about front pay excluded from the trial, according to Front Line Whistleblower News.
In retaliation cases, courts often order employers to reinstate the wrongfully terminated employees. However, sometimes the court may find that the employer-employee relationship is beyond repair. Such a ruling may introduce the matter of front pay.
“Reinstatement is the preferred remedy for unlawful employment discrimination, and front pay is the disfavored alternative, available only when reinstatement is impracticable or impossible,” the court explained in its ruling.
Retaliation may occur in the workplace when an employer punishes an employee for an action that is permitted by law, but which the employer wants to discourage. For example, an employer may retaliate against an employee who makes harassment or discrimination complaints, who reports fraud or other wrongdoing in the workplace, or who participates in an investigation within the workplace. Some employers also retaliate against employees who report workplace injuries to state or federal authorities.
Lawyers in our Fraud section handle complaints involving employment law, including retaliation. For more information or to discuss a possible claim, contact Larry Golston, Leon Hampton or Lauren Miles in this section.