There is no evidence in this record to indicate State Farm had the authority to terminate the Relators’ employment status. Accordingly, I will grant State Farm’s motion for summary judgment on this portion of the Relators’ claim.
In awarding State Farm summary judgment on this point, Judge Senter put his yardstick for all decisions on the table – evidence and controlling law.
However, his decision on the Relators’ Claim for Retaliatory Discharge from Their Employment begs the question – Where’s the evidence?
In a zoo? Exactly. Isn’t that where seals usually do their tricks? In this case, the zoo is the Federal Court for the Northern District of Alabama and the trick seals do in that zoo is shield evidence – the contract between E.A. Renfroe and State Farm, for example.
Knowing what evidence is needed begs a second question that in turn begs a third – Could the Rigsby sisters overturn this decision? and, in their position, Would you focus on winning every battle or winning the war?
E.A. Renfroe provides adjusters under contract with the Company to separately contracted insurance companies and other entities. Not all employee leasing and temporary help agencies are as specialized as Renfroe but all professional employer organizations (PEO) contract with individuals and separately contract with employers. However, these agencies are “third parties” and the contracting employer retains the authority to hire and fire, set compensation and other terms of employment.
Professional employer organizations (PEOs) enable clients to cost-effectively outsource the management of human resources, employee benefits, payroll and workers’ compensation. PEO clients focus on their core competencies to maintain and grow their bottom line.
Businesses today need help managing increasingly complex employee related matters such as health benefits, workers’ compensation claims, payroll, payroll tax compliance, and unemployment insurance claims. They contract with a PEO to assume these responsibilities and provide expertise in human resources management. This allows the PEO client to concentrate on the operational and revenue-producing side of its operations.
A PEO provides integrated services to effectively manage critical human resource responsibilities and employer risks for clients. A PEO delivers these services by establishing and maintaining an employer relationship with the employees at the client’s worksite and by contractually assuming certain employer rights, responsibilities, and risk.
State Farm was unquestionably the employer with the right to terminate the employment of the Rigsby sisters but not their contract with E.A. Renfroe.
The “original source” of Kerri’s concern was seeing people in her community denied the coverage they had purchased from State Farm and she has maintained that concern for the well-being of others even as her own was exposed to increasing risk.
She does indeed remind one of the soft-spoken third grade teacher Chip Merlin described. Merlin’s description indicates long-proven findings from research on human growth and development. By third grade, typically developing children are able to transfer their life long trust in their parents to a significant other, their teacher.
Kerri, a trusted teacher to her community, returned the trust in her. Even with Judge Senter’s earlier Order disqualifying her testimony, her community evidenced continued trust as case after case was filed based on the lessons learned from her teaching.
When I think of Cori’s trust in her sister, I am reminded of my own sisters and the trust we have in one another. I’m also mindfind that Cori’s name appears first on every lawsuit.
Although it would have had no impact on our trust for one another, in that same position, I’m confident my sisters and I would have asked our mother why she didn’t spell the name Kori!
Judge Senter’s Opinion on the Rigsby’s Claim of Retaliatory Discharge follows:
31 U.S.C. §3730(h) of the FCA, sometimes known as the “whistleblower” provision, is intended to prevent adverse job actions against employees who assist in or bring actions under the FCA.
This subsection of the act provides:
(h) Any employee who is discharged, demoted, suspended, threatened,harassed, or in any other manner discriminated against in the terms and conditions of employment by his or her employer because of any lawful acts done by the employee on behalf of the employee or others in furtherance of an action under this section, including investigation for, initiation of, testimony for, or assistance in an action filed or to be filed under this section, shall be entitled to all relief necessary to make the employee whole. Such relief shall include reinstatement with the same seniority status such employee would have had but for the discrimination, 2 times the amount of back pay, interest on the back pay, and compensation for any special damages sustained as a result of the discrimination, including litigation costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees. An employee may bring an action in the appropriate district court of the United States for the relief provided in this subsection.
The Relators acknowledge their employment contract was not with State Farm but with Renfroe, the party with whom the Relators recently reached a comprehensive settlement agreement. I have been unable to find any FCA case in which any party other than the whistleblower’s direct employer has been found liable under 31 U.S.C. §3730(h). There is no evidence in this record to indicate State Farm had the authority to terminate the Relators’ employment status. Accordingly, I will grant State Farm’s motion for summary judgment on this portion of the Relators’ claim.