The City of Chicago – like many other large, metropolitan cities – relies on grant funding, some of which comes from the federal government, to pay for important services that are not covered by local taxes or fees. The recipients of such federal grants are required to comply with applicable federal laws and regulations in carrying out the use and purposes of the funds and the failure to do so could result in False Claims Act liability for misuse of government funds.
In order to successfully bring any False Claims Act case, however, the whistleblower plaintiff must provide sufficient evidence, which oftentimes must extend beyond personal testimony. A recent case brought against the City of Chicago demonstrates just how difficult this can sometimes be.
In United States ex rel. Hill v. City of Chicago, 08-cv-4540 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 14, 2014), Theresa Hill, a former Assistant Commissioner of Workplace Compliance for the City of Chicago, brought a claim against the City, alleging that it had fraudulently secured federal grants for the City's Department of Family and Support Services and the Chicago Police Department. The court found that she had failed to provide adequate evidence to support her claim, however.
As part of the City's applications for federal grants, Hill was asked to sign papers certifying that the City had implemented the necessary equal employment opportunity plan. Hill, whose responsibilities included overseeing equal employment issues, refused to sign the certifications based upon concerns that the City's equal employment opportunity plan was inactive, and she thereafter filed the False Claims Act lawsuit raising such concerns.
In order to support a valid claim under the False Claims Act, Hill was required to show that the City's equal employment opportunity plan had not been implemented, and that the City's certifications were "knowingly" false. Although she argued that the City's plan was not implemented properly due to a lack of necessary and knowledgeable personnel, the court found that her concerns were merely "formalistic" and that the evidence showed that the City was, in fact, following the required equal employment guidelines by making efforts to hire individuals from underrepresented groups and prioritizing its equal employment opportunity initiative. According to the court, Hill's evidence–based solely upon her own unsubstantiated testimony – was insufficient to support her claims.
Proving a False Claims Act can be challenging. In most cases, a whistleblower must be able to provide adequate evidence to support his or her claim, including documentary evidence that extends beyond personal testimony. Assembling adequate evidence can be a daunting, if not impossible, task without skilled legal counsel. The experienced whistleblower attorneys at Goldberg Kohn focus on helping whistleblowers pursue successful False Claims Act lawsuits. Not only do we advise whistleblowers of the viability of their claim, but we also help them assemble the necessary evidence to support their claim.
If you believe that you have information about a possible False Claims Act violation, please contact us at (312) 863-7222 to schedule a free, confidential appointment with one of our nationally recognized whistleblower attorneys.