Triple Damages Sufficiently Punitive to Bar Punitive Damages

Jennifer Gierer says she was fired because she expressed concerns about her employer’s submission of false durable medical equipment claims to Medicare.  So she sued her employer and her boss, alleging (a) retaliation under the False Claims Act, (b) unpaid wages and commissions under Missouri law, (c) unjust enrichment, and (d) wrongful termination in violation of public policy.  The defendants moved to dismiss the demand for punitive damages under the FCA and the unjust enrichment and wrongful termination claims for failure to state a claim.

On Dec. 21 the court granted the motion to dismiss the demand for punitive damages under the FCA.  Studying the FCA’s legislative history, the court noted that a punitive damages provision in the original Senate version of the statute had been stripped out before passage.  Why?  Because Congress deemed the statute’s treble damages provision sufficiently punitive in itself.

The court also upheld the wrongful termination claim against Jennifer’s boss because the boss was just that: her boss, not her employer.  But the court refused to dismiss the remainder of the claims, holding that the FCA doesn’t preempt claims of wrongful discharge.

The case is Gierer v. Rehab Medical, 4:14-cv-01382-CAS, 2015 BL 420088 (E.D.Mo. 2015).

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