District Court in DC largely upholds whistleblower employment verdict

by bvernia | September 14th, 2009

In a decision on September 9, DC District Judge Gladys Kessler left mostly intact a jury’s verdict on the whistleblower claims of Mohammed Kakeh, the Controller of United Planning Organization, a DC-based nonprofit corporation which managed Head Start and the Community Service Block Grant programs under contracts with the DC government.

Kakeh alleged that he was terminated in violation of DC’s whistleblower law, as well as the False Claims Act’s whistleblower protection provision, 31 USC ยง 3730(h), after complaining internally and to OIG-HHS about the nonprofit’s treatment of certain expenses, and the billing of personal expenses to government grant funds. The nonprofit argued that it terminated the plaintiff for non-retaliatory reasons during a reduction in force.

The Court found that the jury’s verdict of liability under DC’s whistleblower protection act, FCA, and the federal FCA was supported by evidence that the plaintiff had a reasonable belief that the nonprofit’s treatment of the expenses was improper, that his complaints constituted protected disclosures, that the corporation had terminated him while aware of his whistleblowing activity, and that his efforts were a contributing factor in its decision to fire him.

A jury awarded the plaintiff compensatory damages and back pay. The Court had entered a judgment with separate amounts for each type of damages under each law; it amended this to single amounts for compensatory and back pay, and then doubled this amount as required under DC’s and the federal FCA.

The plaintiff was represented by Omar Vincent Melehy and Regan Rush, of Silver Spring, MD’s Melehy & Assoc. LLC. United Planning Organization was defended by Kevin Kraham, Alison Davis, and Jeffrey Sun of DC’s Littler Mendelson P.C.

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