United States: Seventh Circuit Rejects False Claims Act And Retaliation Claims Premised On Purported Breach Of Contract

On October 11, 2016, the Seventh Circuit confirmed that there is no violation of the False Claims Act (“FCA”) where the defendant allegedly violated a self-imposed requirement that was not mandated by its contract with the government, and affirmed the proper test for determining whether a purported whistleblower has undertaken a protected activity for purposes of a retaliation claim. In United States ex rel. Uhlig v. Fluor Corp., 839 F.3d 628 (7th Cir. 2016), the panel held that Fluor had not violated the FCA, and that Uhlig could not claim whistleblower protections because at the time he raised the putative FCA issue, neither he nor a reasonable employee in his position could have believed that Fluor was in fact defrauding the government. The panel affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Fluor.


Relator Eric Uhlig filed suit in 2011 in the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois, alleging that Fluor violated the FCA when it knowingly breached the terms of its contract with the U.S. Army by using unlicensed electricians as “journeymen” electricians and billing the government for those services. He also alleged that he was a whistleblower and was wrongfully terminated in violation of 31 U.S.C. § 3730(h). The government declined to intervene in the matter.

Fluor had contracted with the Army to provide electrical work and related services in Afghanistan, and the relator, an electrician, worked for Fluor. Soon after Fluor decided to change its qualification standards to require that journeymen — the position that was essentially equivalent to the relator’s — possess state-issued United States electrician licenses, the relator was informed that unless he obtained a license before his existing one-year contract expired, he would be terminated. The relator then sent an email to the Defense Contract Management Agency Officer, copying his supervisor and enclosing his supervisor’s contact information, complaining that he was losing his job while Fluor continued to pay unlicensed Afghan nationals to do the same work as journeymen “against government compliance.” When pressed by his superior as to why he raised the issue directly to the government instead of pursuing available channels within the company, the relator clarified that he sent the email because he was “following a US taxpayer’s obligation to report fraud waste and abuse from stiffing the US government.” 839 F.3d at 632. Fluor then terminated the relator on the grounds that his initial email, which included non-public contact information for Uhlig’s superior, violated the company’s computer-use policy. Uhlig’s complaint followed.

The district court granted summary judgment in Fluor’s favor on August 6, 2014. The court dismissed the FCA claim on the grounds that Fluor’s contract with the army did not, in fact, require that journeyman electricians be licensed, so Fluor did not breach the contract in its decision to use Afghan nationals who did not possess United States licenses as journeymen. Fluor’s voluntary decision to impose the new licensure requirement on US-based electricians did not convert to a contractual obligation, and Fluor was under no contractual obligation to apply the same requirement to Afghan nationals in its employ. As to the relator’s retaliation claim, the court concluded that the relator’s email to the government and to his supervisor was not “protected activity” under the FCA because he did not have any objective basis for asserting that Fluor had defrauded the government at the time he sent the email. As a result, the district court concluded, he was not entitled to whistleblower protection.

The Seventh Circuit’s Holding

A unanimous panel of the Seventh Circuit agreed with the district court that Fluor did not violate the FCA, and likewise agreed that the relator was not entitled to any whistleblower protections for his actions. The Court’s opinion reviewed the key provisions of Fluor’s contract with the Army and concluded that it provided a set of options for establishing an employee’s qualifications, “and licensing was not the exclusive method for doing so.” 839 F.3d at 634. Relying on the plain language of the contract, the Court found that Fluor’s decision to impose a licensing requirement on US-based electricians while using other standards for Afghan nationals was plainly permissible under the contract.

As to the relator’s retaliation claim, the Court applied the Seventh Circuit’s test to determine whether Uhlig’s activity was protected, and maintained that the test includes an objective element: whether a reasonable employee in the same or similar position might believe in good faith that Fluor was committing fraud against the government. Here, the relator had not reviewed any of the relevant contract terms, and so lacked any firsthand knowledge of Fluor’s contractual obligations to the Army. And his secondhand knowledge, which was received in the form of emails updating him on the new qualification requirements and informing him of how his own position would be reclassified, was insufficient to give rise to a reasonable belief that Fluor was defrauding the government. Even assuming the relator subjectively believed that Fluor was knowingly breaching its contract, the Court held, he could not satisfy the objective component of the test.

Implications of the Court’s Decision

While the Seventh Circuit’s substantive FCA ruling did not break any new ground, its ruling on the relator’s retaliation claim confirms that it will continue to join several other courts of appeals, including the Eighth, Ninth, and D.C. Circuits, in applying both objective and subjective components to inquiries into whether an employee’s actions are protected by the FCA’s anti-retaliation provision.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.