The False Claims Act is drafted to address nearly any type of false claim made by an individual or corporation to the federal government. The FCA was originally implemented to address wartime misconduct, but has since grown to include many other instances of fraud. In today’s case, we explore a recently-unsealed case filed in 2012 alleging intentional pollution by a DuPont plant located in Ascension Parrish, Louisiana. The whistleblower, a long-time employee of the plant, contends it knowingly released toxic and carcinogenic gases into the environment, threatening nearby residential areas and schools.
Details of U.S. ex rel. Simoneaux v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Company
According to the complaint, which was filed in April, 2012, the DuPont Company was knowingly emitting toxic, cancer-causing fumes from one of its vessels beginning in December, 2011. The relator, who was employed at the time as an operator in the Safety and Protection Department, immediately relayed the information internally to several employees and officers in accordance with safety risk reporting procedures. All employees involved, including the manager of the plant, failed to act in accordance with environmental protocol and continued to operate the plant despite full knowledge that dangerous gas leaks were occurring on site. The relator was also ordered not to report or document any information about the leaks in writing.
Subsequent to the relator’s attempts to report and rectify the dangerous gas leaks, he was passed over for a position within the company that, according to hiring protocol, should have been awarded to him in favor of the other two candidates.
According to his complaint, the government was harmed by not having the opportunity to inspect and help correct the environmental issue. In addition, various EPA regulations impose a fine of $25,000 per day for this type of misconduct. Had DuPont properly alerted officials as to the issue, it could have not only helped to mitigate the situation but would have recovered sizable fees and penalties from the DuPont Company. According to reports, it appears that the leaks have continued to present day, possibly affecting those in surrounding neighborhoods, a nearby elementary school, and the Mississippi River.
In a deposition, the relator recalled that, “Employees and contractors work in proximity to the leaks on a daily basis with no warning given before there is a visible gas leak. Employees must watch a windsock at the plant in attempts to stay upwind of any gas leaks in efforts to avoid exposure.”
Contact Berger Montague Today
Today’s case offers a unique look at possible exposure to liability under the False Claims Act for violations of federal environmental laws. If you are aware of similar environmental fraud, including failure by your employer to adhere to federal clean-up or reporting laws, you may be able to file a whistleblower lawsuit to address the problem. Whistleblowers under the FCA stand to receive up to 30 percent of any amount recovered through a verdict or settlement with the defendant. For more information, contact Berger Montague today.