In the case of DiFiore v. CSL Behring, LLC, a former pharmaceutical employee brought an action in the District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against her former employer for retaliation in the form of a wrongful, constructive discharge. In that case, the employee specifically brought claims under the federal False Claims Act (“FCA”) https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/31/3729 and Pennsylvania’s common law wrongful discharge cause of action. She claimed that she had raised concerns about off-label marketing of products which caused her employer to retaliate.
In that case, the District Court instructed the jury that, in order to prove retaliation under the FCA, the employee had to prove that the whistleblowing by the employee was the sole cause for the adverse action (firing or other retaliatory action). However, the plaintiff-employee argued that she need only provide that the whistleblower action was a motivating factor for the wrongful discharge – not that it was the only reason for the adverse employment action. The plaintiff was relying on a prior Third Circuit case, Hutchins v. ABC Corp. However, the Court determined that the “motivating factor” language in the Hutchins case was merely dicta – meaning that the language was extraneous to the decision and does not act as precedential.
The Court also decided that the United States Supreme Court decisions in Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc. and University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v Nassar indicate that a “motivating factor” test is inappropriate. (The Gross case considered a claim under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) and the Nassar case considered a claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.) In both cases, the Supreme Court found that the language “because of” in those laws, equated to the requirement of “but-for” causation. In other words, the adverse action would not have happened “but for” the improper motivation, requiring that to be the exclusive motivation. The ADEA, Title VII, and the FCA all contain that same language.