By Steven Wiley | September 30, 2013 at 03:37 PM EDT | No Comments
In employment law, Virginia adheres very strongly to the traditional doctrine of "at-will employment," which essentially means that, absent an employment contract, employers or employees are generally free to sever the employment relationship at any time and for almost any reason. However, over the years the courts and the General Assembly have carved out a few exceptions to the at-will employment doctrine, one of which is set forth in the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act.
The Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act ("VFATA"), as set forth at Va. Code Ann. §§ 8.01-216.1 through 216.19, provides for liability for any person or entity who presents a false claim for payment or who generally otherwise acts to defraud the Commonwealth. Claims under VFATA may be asserted directly by the Commonwealth or by private persons under a "qui tam" procedure.
How does VFATA apply to employment law? The Act contains a specific allowance for employees, contractors or agents to file lawsuits against their employers if they are "discharged, demoted, suspended, threatened, harassed, or in any other manner discriminated against" by their employer due to either (1) lawful acts in furtherance of an action under VFATA; or (2) other efforts to stop on or more violations of VFATA. In other words, an employer can be held liable to its employee, contractor or agent if the employer discriminates against that person due to efforts to cooperate in or bring an action under VFATA or for making efforts to stop the employer from acting to defraud the Commonwealth. A prevailing plaintiff is entitled to reinstatement, double the amount of lost back pay incurred (with interest) and compensation for any other special damages incurred, including litigation costs and attorney's fees. As of 2011, an in response to the Supreme Court of Virginia's ruling in Ligon v. County of Goochland, 689 S.E.2d 666 (Va. 2010), the whistleblower protection provision was amended to allow for a waiver of sovereign immunity, thus opening the door for public employees to sue for employment discrimination under the Act.