False Claims Act doesn't provide grounds for state-law whistleblower protection claim, Utah court rules

by Ben Vernia | April 11th, 2011

On April 6 in U.S. ex rel. Johnson v. Mission Support, Inc., District Judge Dee Benson in Utah granted a defendant’s motion for partial summary judgment on a whistleblower’s claim that he was fired in retaliation for lodging internal complaints about improper conduct on defense contracts (for which he also alleged substantive violations of the False Claims Act).

In Utah, Judge Benson noted, employment relationships are presumed to be “at will,” but this can be overcome by demonstrating that the firing constitutes a violation of a clear and substantial public policy. But the state supreme court interpreted these exceptions very narrowly – “only those principles which are so substantial and fundamental that there can be virtually no question as to their importance for promotion of the public good.” Reviewing other cases, Judge Benson concluded that to fall within this exception to Utah’s at-will employment rule, the public interest must be one of the state of Utah, and that the federal False Claims Act did not meet this requirement.

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