After a decade of teaching the popular Health Care Fraud and Abuse seminar at Boston University Law School, Whistleblower Law Collaborative LLC (“WLC”) Co-Founder Bob Thomas has started an additional seminar this fall, called Whistleblower Law and Practice. Due to the pandemic, the course is offered in hybrid format (some students live and some on ZOOM).
While there is some overlap with the Health Care Fraud and Abuse course (now taught by WLC partner Erica Blachman Hitchings in the spring semester), the two courses are designed to be different enough to be interesting and relevant if students choose to take both. The new course goes broader than health care fraud and covers the now dizzying array of laws that protect and incentivize whistleblowers both in the government context and in the private sector.
Fifty years ago, other than the dormant False Claims Act, there were virtually no whistleblower programs to speak of, and very little whistleblower protections against retaliation other than the mostly inadequate common law or employment law remedies. Today, there are literally dozens of whistleblower laws. The course is designed to familiarize the students with these laws, understand how they work, and to learn to recognize what type of whistleblower activity might fall into a particular category. Whether the students later become in-house counsel, or defense lawyers, or prosecutors, or plaintiffs’ attorneys, they will come away from this course with technical understanding of how these laws operate and how they might apply to a particular problem. They will also leave with an appreciation of the life-altering aspects of individual whistleblowers’ journeys.
The course begins with the history of three important whistleblowers in the government context: Daniel Ellsberg, Mark Felt, and Edward Snowden. Through these examples, students will see that individuals faced with difficult moral and ethical dilemmas face a harrowing and career-altering series of choices. Moreover, one’s views of whistleblowing activity often depends on one’s vantage point and worldview: Are they heroes? Are they traitors? Are they both?
The course will show how whistleblower laws are divided into, essentially, two large categories. The first provides a variety of whistleblower protections against retaliation, both inside and outside of government. The whistleblower complaint that led to the President’s impeachment will serve as a case study. The second category is the set of laws that provide financial incentives for whistleblowers to report fraud and misfeasance, whether overbilling the government, manipulating securities markets, or the evasion of taxes.
Each seminar participant will do a research paper on a particular whistleblower, following his/her journey through the highs and lows of the experience, examining how friends/family/society treated them as they went through the process, whether the law applicable to their situation worked well or not, and whether they would go through it again if they had the choice. They will present these research papers in short video presentations.
With Inspectors General under fire throughout government and whistleblower lawsuits being decided every day in the courts, this is a timely course at a critical time in the history of the United States.
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