After nearly a decade of litigation, justice was finally meted out in an extreme case of Government over-reach against a government contractor. The Government had sought to recover over $1.6 million from a government contractor whose subcontractor had underpaid a handful of employees by $9,900.

When all was said and done, a federal appellate court finally rejected the Government’s legal theory as essentially frivolous and ordered it to pay the contractor’s attorney fees, estimated at roughly $500,000.  When the Government expressed concern that this would have a “chilling effect” on its efforts to vigorously enforce the False Claims Act, the court stated: “One should hope so.”  The case is called U.S. ex rel. Wall v. Circle C Constr., LLC, No. 16-6169, (6th Cir. Aug. 18, 2017).

The story starts when the prime contractor, Circle C Construction, won a contract to construct buildings at the Fort Campbell military base. Circle C hired a subcontractor, Phase Tech, to perform the electrical work. The prime contract required compliance with the Davis-Bacon Act, which is similar to the Service Contract Act but applies to construction work. Like the Service Contract Act, the Davis Bacon Act requires the prime contractor and all subcontractors to pay construction workers the prevailing wages and benefits set by the Department of Labor. The Davis-Bacon Act also requires that the contractor submit certified payrolls as a condition of contract payment.

While Circle C did not have a written contract with its subcontractor Phase Tech, it did provide Phase Tech with the Wage Determinations from its prime contract. But Circle C did not verify whether Phase Tech was in compliance with the Davis Bacon Act. Phase Tech did not submit payroll certifications for two years after the project commenced, and later contended it was not aware it had to do so.

Eventually, one of Phase Tech’s employees brought a qui tam False Claims Act action against both Phase Tech and Circle C based on the under-payment of wages. Phase Tech settled the case by agreeing to pay $15,000, leaving Circle C as the remaining defendant. The Government agreed to take over the case from the employee and pursued the claim against Circle C.

Initially, the case did not go well for Circle C. The federal trial court hearing the case granted plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment and damages of $555,000 (the entire cost of the electrical scope of work on the project), which was trebled to a total award of $1.66 million against Circle C.

Continue Reading Government ordered to pay contractor’s attorney’s fees in False Claims Act case

Contractors will have more forms to fill out, and possibly some explaining to do, when the recently issued Executive Order on Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces is fully implemented in 2016. The Executive Order requires offerors to disclose whether they have been found to have violated, within the past 3 years, any of 14 different labor laws.

Covered laws include:  Fair Labor Standards Act, Occupation Safety and Health Act, Davis Bacon Act, Service Contract Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, and a host of others. Violations of equivalent state laws must also be reported.

An offeror with violations will be provided an opportunity to disclose steps it has taken to correct the violations or improve compliance. The procuring contractor officer will take this into account in determining the offeror’s responsibility.  The contractor will need to update its disclosure every six months.

Agencies are also required to ensure that contractors (and their subcontractors) provide their employees with “paycheck transparency,” providing a document to each employee that shows the hours worked, overtime hours, pay, and any additions or deductions made. Contractors must also state in writing if an individual is considered an independent contractor and not an employee.

These requirements apply to contracts and subcontracts valued at $500,000 or more. GSA is charged with developing a single website for contractors to use in meeting these new reporting requirements.

For contracts (and subcontracts) valued at $1 million or more, contractors may not require that their employees arbitrate claims relating to Civil Rights violations, sexual assault, or harassment. (Once such a claim has arisen, the parties can mutually agree to arbitrate the claim.)  This restriction, however, does not apply to employees who are covered by a Collective Bargaining Agreement.

The Executive Order is effective now, but the reporting requirement is not expected to begin until 2016, after the development of FAR regulations and clauses. Since the disclosure form has a 3-year look back period, violations that occurred in 2013 would be subject to the reporting requirement.

Contractors need only report adjudicated labor law violations:  a civil judgment, arbitral award, or administrative merits determination that the contractor violated a covered labor law. Settlements of alleged labor law violations are not reported. The Executive Order thus places further pressure on contractors to settle such claims rather than risk a reportable violation.