D.C. Will Pay Ex-Official $3.5M in Whistle-Blower Suit

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By Jon Steingart

The Washington, D.C., government agreed to pay $3.53 million to settle a whistle-blower lawsuit by a former government official who says he was fired after raising concerns that city council members inappropriately tried to influence how the city would award a lottery contract, according to a copy of the settlement agreement obtained by Bloomberg BNA ( Payne v. D.C. , D.D.C., No. 1:10-cv-00679, settlement agreed to 5/31/17 ).

“This case is the most extreme case in the history of the D.C. Whistleblower Protection Act,” Donald Temple, a lawyer for former lottery contracts director Eric Payne, told Bloomberg BNA June 2. “It mirrors the exact intent of the statute where you have someone, like Eric Payne, who exposes multiple instances of what he perceived to be fraud and corruption and very clearly demonstrated retaliation against him.”

“We reached a resolution to this case that we believe is fair to Mr. Payne and to the District,” city Attorney General Karl Racine (D) said in a statement emailed to Bloomberg BNA June 2. “I wish him luck.”

Case Split Into Liability, Damages Phases

The case was divided into phases in which a jury trial would determine liability and the judge would determine damages before entering judgment, Temple said. A jury in November found the city liable, awarding Payne $1.7 million to compensate for emotional distress and other pain and suffering that occurred after he reported the suspected misconduct in 2008. “That verdict is a liability verdict,” Temple said.

“People who are in a position to report waste, fraud, and abuse should be encouraged in making those types of reports and knowing the Whistleblower Protection Act will protect them from any adverse employment actions,” Brian McDaniel, a lawyer for Payne, told Bloomberg BNA June 2. “The jury’s verdict in this case is a statement that individuals who do make those types of reports will be protected under the law.”

The May 31 settlement incorporates the amount the jury awarded but releases the city from liability. It provides an additional $830,000 for back pay and $1 million for attorneys’ fees.

The city asked the court to set aside the jury verdict or reduce its award in a Dec. 28 motion. The court hasn’t ruled on the requests.

The parties plan to dismiss the lawsuit after Payne receives the funds, McDaniel said.

Temple and McDaniel, who is with the McDaniel Law Group PLLC, practice in Washington. George Valentine, a deputy attorney general, represented the city.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jon Steingart in Washington at jsteingart@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com

For More Information

The settlement agreement is available at http://src.bna.com/ps1.

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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