Law School Case Brief
Robertson v. Bell Helicopter Textron - 32 F.3d 948 (5th Cir. 1994)
The "whistleblower" provision of the False Claims Act prevents the harassment, retaliation, or threatening of employees who assist in or bring qui tam actions.
Plaintiff George S. Robertson was employed by defendant Bell Helicopter Textron, Inc. ("Bell") as a senior contract administrator. His immediate supervisor asked Robertson to request an additional $ 1.6 million for Contract Lots IV and V for unanticipated maintenance and repair to the United States government ("Government"). No explanation was given as to why the additional funds were due. During this time, Robertson voiced his concerns to several of his superiors about the lack of verification for these additional charges. When another request was made by another boss, Robertson refused to make the request. That year he was given a performance rating of 3 instead of the recommended 3.5 rating. In 1992, as part of a general reduction in Bell's workforce, Robertson was laid off. Bell maintained that Robertson was chosen because he had the lowest performance rating. Nevertheless, Robertson filed lawsuit against Bell in federal district court under 31 U.S.C.S. § 3730(h) alleging that he was discharged in retaliation for investigating possible overcharging of the Government. He also asserted a state law claim for wrongful discharge for refusing to perform an illegal act. The jury returned a verdict for the employee on the federal claim, but the district court granted Bell's motion for judgment as a matter of law. Robertson appealed.
Did the trial court err by granting Bell's motion for judgment as a matter of law?
The appellate court affirmed the district court's judgment. The court held that Bell carried its motion for judgment as a matter of law because Robertson's reports to his superiors did not constitute protected activity under the False Claims Act, nor did Robertson change his conduct so that his qui tam intentions were objectively demonstrated. Robertson's wrongful discharge claim properly failed because his refusal to perform an illegal act was not the sole reason advanced for his discharge. To the contrary, Robertson's assertion that he was discharged for a retaliatory reason effectively precluded his common law claim. Dismissal of that claim was therefore proper.
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