Does Florida Have a False Claims Act?
Yes, Florida has its own False Claims Act, known as the Florida False Claims Act (FFCA). The FFCA, like the federal False Claims Act, is designed to discourage fraudulent claims against the government and encourage whistleblowers to come forward with information about fraud. Any person who knowingly presents a false or fraudulent claim for payment or approval to the state of Florida is liable for penalties under the FFCA.
How is the Florida False Claims Act Different from the Federal False Claims Act?
One of the key distinguishing features of the Florida False Claims Act (FFCA) is the procedural provision mandating that FFCA-only cases be filed in Leon County. According to Fla. St. §68.083, any FFCA claims that are not accompanied by claims under the federal False Claims Act must be filed in the state court located in Leon County. This provision is unique to the FFCA and is not found in the federal statute.
Another noteworthy difference is the “Innocent Mistake” provision under the FFCA. This clause provides a viable defense for defendants who can prove that they made an “innocent mistake” that led to damages to the state. If defendants can substantiate that they unknowingly made the mistake, they are exempt from the penalties detailed in the FFCA. This provision allows for a degree of leniency not typically found in the federal statute.
Lastly, the FFCA differs from its federal counterpart in its treatment of current state employees. Under the FFCA, current state employees are prohibited from filing lawsuits. However, the Federal False Claims Act does not have such a restriction, and it permits state employees to bring forward lawsuits under its purview. This disparity underscores the FFCA’s unique stance on who can act as a whistleblower under its provisions.
Does the Florida False Claims Act have a Qui Tam Provision?
Yes. According to Fla. Stat § 68.083, the Florida FCA stipulates that a private individual or relator can bring qui tam claims on the State’s behalf.
What are the penalties under the Florida False Claims Act?
Under the Florida FCA, as is the case under the federal FCA, penalties range from $5,500 to $11,000 per claim.
Does the Florida False Claims Act have an anti-retaliation Provision?
According Fla. Stat. §68.088, if an employee is retaliated against, they “shall have a cause of action under s. 112.3187.” Section 112.3187, also know at the Whistle-blower’s act” outlines the very same whistleblower protections that the federal FCA does.
What are the statue of limitations under the Florida False Claims Act?
Like the statute of limitations under the federal FCA, the statute of limitations under Fla Stat. §68.089 is 6 years.
What are some big cases related to the Florida False Claims Act?New York Mellon: In 2013, New York Mellon, an investment bank, agreed to pay $28 million dollars to the Florida Government in order to settle allegations that the bank overcharged Florida’s Retirement System Trust Fund when handling foreign currency trades, in addition to other transactions, defrauding Florida out of millions of dollars.
U.S. ex rel. Freedman v. SuarezHoyos et al., No. 04-933 (M.D. Fla.): A dermatologist agreed to pay $26.1 million to resolve allegations that he had violated the Florida FCA by billing the Medicare program for medical services that were unnecessary and accepting illegal kickbacks.
What is the text of the Florida False Claimst Act?
Sections 68.081-68.092 may be cited as the “Florida False Claims Act.”
Fla. Stat. §68.082 – False Claims against the state; definitions; liability
(1) As used in this section, the term:(a) “Claim” means any request or demand, whether under a contract or otherwise, for money or property, regardless of whether the state has title to the money or property, that:1. Is presented to any employee, officer, or agent of the state; or2. Is made to a contractor, grantee, or other recipient if the state provides or has provided any portion of the money or property requested or demanded, or if the state will reimburse the contractor, grantee, or other recipient for any portion of the money or property that is requested or demanded.(b) “Department” means the Department of Legal Affairs, except as specifically provided in ss. 68.083 and 68.084.(c) “Knowing” or “knowingly” means, with respect to information, that a person:1. Has actual knowledge of the information;2. Acts in deliberate ignorance of the truth or falsity of the information; or3. Acts in reckless disregard of the truth or falsity of the information.
No proof of specific intent to defraud is required. Innocent mistake shall be a defense to an action under this act.
(d) “Material” means having a natural tendency to influence, or be capable of influencing, the payment or receipt of money or property.(e) “Obligation” means an established duty, fixed or otherwise, arising from an express or implied contractual, grantor-grantee, or licensor-licensee relationship, from a fee-based or similar relationship, from statute or regulation, or from the retention of any overpayment.(f) “State” means the government of the state or any department, division, bureau, commission, regional planning agency, board, district, authority, agency, or other instrumentality of the state.(2) Any person who:(a) Knowingly presents or causes to be presented a false or fraudulent claim for payment or approval;(b) Knowingly makes, uses, or causes to be made or used a false record or statement material to a false or fraudulent claim;(c) Conspires to commit a violation of this subsection;(d) Has possession, custody, or control of property or money used or to be used by the state and knowingly delivers or causes to be delivered less than all of that money or property;(e) Is authorized to make or deliver a document certifying receipt of property used or to be used by the state and, intending to defraud the state, makes or delivers the receipt without knowing that the information on the receipt is true;(f) Knowingly buys or receives, as a pledge of an obligation or a debt, public property from an officer or employee of the state who may not sell or pledge the property; or(g) Knowingly makes, uses, or causes to be made or used a false record or statement material to an obligation to pay or transmit money or property to the state, or knowingly conceals or knowingly and improperly avoids or decreases an obligation to pay or transmit money or property to the state
is liable to the state for a civil penalty of not less than $5,500 and not more than $11,000 and for treble the amount of damages the state sustains because of the act of that person.
(3) The court may reduce the treble damages authorized under subsection (2) if the court finds one or more of the following specific extenuating circumstances:(a) The person committing the violation furnished the department with all information known to the person about the violation within 30 days after the date on which the person first obtained the information;(b) The person fully cooperated with any official investigation of the violation; or(c) At the time the person furnished the department with the information about the violation, no criminal prosecution, civil action, or administrative action had commenced under this section with respect to the violation, and the person did not have actual knowledge of the existence of an investigation into the violation;
in which case the court shall award no less than 2 times the amount of damages sustained by the state because of the act of the person. The court shall set forth in a written order its findings and basis for reducing the treble damages award.
Fla. Stat. §68.083 – Civil actions for false claims
(1) The department may diligently investigate a violation under s. 68.082. If the department finds that a person has violated or is violating s. 68.082, the department may bring a civil action under the Florida False Claims Act against the person. The Department of Financial Services may bring a civil action under this section if the action arises from an investigation by that department and the Department of Legal Affairs has not filed an action under this act.(2) A person may bring a civil action for a violation of s. 68.082 for the person and for the affected agency. Civil actions instituted under this act shall be governed by the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure and shall be brought in the name of the State of Florida. Prior to the court unsealing the complaint under subsection (3), the action may be voluntarily dismissed by the person bringing the action only if the department gives written consent to the dismissal and its reasons for such consent.(3) The complaint shall be identified on its face as a qui tam action and shall be filed in the circuit court of the Second Judicial Circuit, in and for Leon County. Immediately upon the filing of the complaint, a copy of the complaint and written disclosure of substantially all material evidence and information the person possesses shall be served on the Attorney General, as head of the department, and on the Chief Financial Officer, as head of the Department of Financial Services, by registered mail, return receipt requested. The department, or the Department of Financial Services under the circumstances specified in subsection (4), may elect to intervene and proceed with the action, on behalf of the state, within 60 days after it receives both the complaint and the material evidence and information.(4) If a person brings an action under subsection (2) and the action is based upon the facts underlying a pending investigation by the Department of Financial Services, the Department of Financial Services, instead of the department, may take over the action on behalf of the state. In order to take over the action, the Department of Financial Services must give the department written notification within 20 days after the action is filed that the Department of Financial Services is conducting an investigation of the facts of the action and that the Department of Financial Services, instead of the department, will take over the action filed under subsection (2). If the Department of Financial Services takes over the action under this subsection, the word “department” as used in this act means the Department of Financial Services, and that department, for purposes of that action, shall have all rights and standing granted the department under this act.(5) The department may, for good cause shown, request the court to extend the time during which the complaint remains under seal under subsection (2). Any such motion may be supported by affidavits or other submissions in camera. The defendant is not required to respond to any complaint filed under this section until 20 days after the complaint is unsealed and served upon the defendant in accordance with law.(6) Before the expiration of the 60-day period or any extensions obtained under subsection (5), the department shall:(a) Proceed with the action, in which case the action is conducted by the department on behalf of the state; or(b) Notify the court that it declines to take over the action, in which case the person bringing the action has the right to conduct the action.(7) When a person files an action under this section, no person other than the department may intervene or bring a related action based on the facts underlying the pending action.(8)(a) Except as otherwise provided in this subsection, the complaint and information held by the department pursuant to an investigation of a violation of s. 68.082 is confidential and exempt from s. 119.07(1) and s. 24(a), Art. I of the State Constitution.(b) Information made confidential and exempt under paragraph (a) may be disclosed by the department to a law enforcement agency or another administrative agency in the performance of its official duties and responsibilities.(c) Information made confidential and exempt under paragraph (a) is no longer confidential and exempt once the investigation is completed, unless the information is otherwise protected by law.(d) For purposes of this subsection, an investigation is considered complete:1. Under subsection (1) once the department either files its own action or closes its investigation without filing an action.2. Under subsection (2) upon the unsealing of the qui tam action or its voluntary dismissal prior to any unsealing.
(1) If the department, on behalf of the state, proceeds with the action, it has the primary responsibility for prosecuting the action, and is not bound by any act of the person bringing the action. The person bringing the action has the right to continue as a party to the action, subject to the limitations specified in subsection (2).
(a) The department may at any point voluntarily dismiss the action notwithstanding the objections of the person initiating the action.
(b) Subject to s. 17.04, nothing in this act shall be construed to limit the authority of the department or the qui tam plaintiff to compromise a claim brought in a complaint filed under this act if the court determines, after a hearing, that the proposed settlement is fair, adequate, and reasonable under all the circumstances.
(c) Upon a showing by the department that unrestricted participation during the course of the litigation by the person initiating the action would interfere with or unduly delay the department’s prosecution of the case, or would be repetitious, irrelevant, or for purposes of harassment, the court may, in its discretion, impose limitations on the person’s participation, including, but not limited to:
- Limiting the number of witnesses the person may call;
- Limiting the length of the testimony of the person’s witnesses;
- Limiting the person’s cross-examination of witnesses; or
- Otherwise limiting the participation by the person in the litigation.
(d) Upon a showing by the defendant that unrestricted participation during the course of the litigation by the person initiating the action would be for purposes of harassment or would cause the defendant undue burden or unnecessary expense, the court may limit the participation by the person in the litigation.
(3) If the department elects not to proceed with the action, the person who initiated the action has the right to conduct the action. If the Attorney General, as head of the department, or the Chief Financial Officer, as head of the Department of Financial Services, so requests, it shall be served with copies of all pleadings and motions filed in the action along with copies of all deposition transcripts at the requesting department’s expense. When a person proceeds with the action, the court, without limiting the rights of the person initiating the action, may nevertheless permit the department to intervene and take over the action on behalf of the state at a later date upon showing of good cause.
(4) Regardless of whether the department proceeds with the action, upon a showing by the department that certain actions of discovery by the person initiating the action would interfere with an investigation by the state or the prosecution of a criminal or civil matter arising out of the same facts, the court may stay such discovery for a period of not more than 60 days. Such a showing shall be conducted in camera. The court may extend the 60-day period upon a further showing in camera by the department that the criminal or civil investigation or proceeding has been pursued with reasonable diligence and any proposed discovery in the civil action will interfere with an ongoing criminal or civil investigation or proceeding.
(5) Notwithstanding paragraph (2)(b), the state may elect to pursue its claim through any available alternate remedy, including any administrative proceeding to determine a civil money penalty. If any such alternate remedy is pursued in another proceeding, the person initiating the action shall have the same rights in such proceeding as the person would have had if the action had continued under this section. Any finding of fact or conclusion of law made in such other proceeding that has become final shall be conclusive on all parties to an action under this section. For purposes of this subsection, a finding or conclusion is final if it has been finally determined on appeal to the appropriate court, if all time for filing such an appeal with respect to the finding or conclusion has expired, or if the finding or conclusion is not subject to judicial review.
(6) The Department of Financial Services, or the department, may intervene on its own behalf as a matter of right.
Fla. Stat. §68.085 – Awards to plaintiffs bringing action
(a) If the department proceeds with an action brought by a person under this act, subject to the requirements of paragraph (b), the person shall receive at least 15 percent but not more than 25 percent of the proceeds of the action or settlement of the claim, depending upon the extent to which the person substantially contributed to the prosecution of the action.
(b) If the court finds the action to be based primarily on disclosures of specific information, other than information provided by the person bringing the action, relating to allegations or transactions in a criminal, civil, or administrative hearing; a legislative, administrative, inspector general, or auditor general report, hearing, audit, or investigation; or from the news media, the court may award such sums as it considers appropriate, but in no case more than 10 percent of the proceeds, taking into account the significance of the information and the role of the person bringing the action in advancing the case to litigation.
(c) Any payment to a person under paragraph (a) or paragraph (b) shall be made from the proceeds. The person shall also receive an amount for reasonable expenses that the court finds to have been necessarily incurred, plus reasonable attorney fees and costs. All such expenses, fees, and costs shall be awarded against the defendant.
(2) If the department does not proceed with an action under this section, the person bringing the action or settling the claim shall receive an amount that the court decides is reasonable for collecting the civil penalty and damages. The amount shall be not less than 25 percent and not more than 30 percent of the proceeds of the action or settlement and shall be paid out of such proceeds. The person shall also receive an amount for reasonable expenses that the court finds to have been necessarily incurred, plus reasonable attorney fees and costs. All such expenses, fees, and costs shall be awarded against the defendant.
(3) Following any distributions under subsection (1) or subsection (2), the state entity injured by the submission of a false or fraudulent claim shall be awarded an amount not to exceed its compensatory damages. If the action was based on a claim of funds from the state Medicaid program, 10 percent of any remaining proceeds shall be deposited into the Operating Trust Fund to fund rewards for persons who report and provide information relating to Medicaid fraud pursuant to s. 409.9203. Any remaining proceeds, including civil penalties awarded under s. 68.082, shall be deposited in the General Revenue Fund.
(4) Regardless of whether the department proceeds with the action, if the court finds that the action was brought by a person who planned and initiated the violation of s. 68.082 upon which the action was brought, the court may, to the extent the court considers appropriate, reduce the share of the proceeds of the action that the person would otherwise receive under this section, taking into account the role of the person in advancing the case to litigation and any relevant circumstances pertaining to the violation. If the person bringing the action is convicted of criminal conduct arising from his or her role in the violation of s. 68.082, the person shall be dismissed from the civil action and shall not receive any share of the proceeds of the action. Such dismissal shall not prejudice the right of the department to continue the action.
Fla. Stat. § 68.085
Amended by 2013 Fla. Laws, ch. 104,s 6, eff. 7/1/2013.
- 5, ch. 94-316; s. 11, ch. 95-153; s.5, ch. 2007-236; s.2, ch. 2009-223; s.22, ch. 2010-162.
Fla. Stat. §68.086 – Expenses; attorney fees and costs
(1) If the department initiates an action under this act or assumes control of an action brought by a person under this act, the department shall be awarded its reasonable attorney fees, expenses, and costs.
(2) If the department does not proceed with an action under this act and the person bringing the action conducts the action, the court may award to the defendant its reasonable attorney fees and expenses if the defendant prevails in the action and the court finds that the claim of the person bringing the action was clearly frivolous, clearly vexatious, or brought primarily for purposes of harassment.
(3) No liability shall be incurred by the state or the department for any expenses, attorney fees, or other costs incurred by any person in bringing or defending an action under this act.
Fla. Stat. §68.087 – Exemptions to civil actions
(1) No court shall have jurisdiction over an action brought under this act against a member of the Legislature, a member of the judiciary, or a senior executive branch official if the action is based on evidence or information known to the state government when the action was brought. For purposes of this subsection, the term “senior executive branch official” means any person employed in the executive branch of government holding a position in the Senior Management Service as defined in s. 110.402.
(2) In no event may a person bring an action under s. 68.083(2) based upon allegations or transactions that are the subject of a civil action or an administrative proceeding in which the state is already a party.
(3) The court shall dismiss an action brought under this act unless opposed by the department, if substantially the same allegations or transactions as alleged in the action were publicly disclosed:
(a) In a criminal, civil, or administrative hearing in which the state is a party;
(b) In a legislative, administrative, inspector general, or other state report, hearing, audit, or investigation; or
(c) From the news media,
unless the action is brought by the department or the person bringing the action is an original source of the information. For purposes of this subsection, the term “original source” means an individual who, before a public disclosure under this subsection, has voluntarily disclosed to the department the information on which allegations or transactions in a claim are based, or who has knowledge that is independent of and materially adds to the publicly disclosed allegations or transactions and has voluntarily provided the information to the department before filing an action under this section.
(4) No court shall have jurisdiction over an action where the person bringing the action under s. 68.083(2) is:
(a) Acting as an attorney for state government; or
(b) An employee or former employee of state government,
and the action is based, in whole or in part, upon information obtained in the course or scope of government employment.
(5) No court shall have jurisdiction over an action where the person bringing the action under s. 68.083(2) obtained the information from an employee or former employee of state government who was not acting in the course or scope of government employment.
(6) No court shall have jurisdiction over an action brought under this act against any county or municipality.
Fla. Stat. §68.088 – Protection for participating employees
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 lawful acts done by the employee on behalf of the employee or others in furtherance of an action under this act, including investigation for initiation of, testimony for, or assistance in an action filed or to be filed under this act, shall have a cause of action under s. 112.3187.
Fla. Stat. §68.089 – Limitation of actions; effect of interventions department
1) A civil action under this act may not be brought:
(a) More than 6 years after the date on which the violation of s. 68.082 is committed; or
(b) More than 3 years after the date when facts material to the right of action are known or reasonably should have been known by the department, but in no event more than 10 years after the date on which the violation is committed, whichever occurs last.
(2) If the department elects to intervene and proceed with an action brought under s. 68.083(2), the department may file its own complaint or amend the complaint of a person who has brought an action under s. 68.083(2) to clarify or add detail to the claims in which the department is intervening and to add any additional claims with respect to which the department contends it is entitled to relief. For statute of limitations purposes, any such pleading shall relate back to the filing date of the complaint of the person who originally brought the action, to the extent that the claim of the state arises out of the conduct, transactions, or occurrences set forth, or attempted to be set forth, in the prior complaint of that person. This subsection applies to any actions under s. 68.083(2) pending on or filed after July 1, 2013.
Fla. Stat. §68.090 – Burden of proof
(1) In any action brought under this act, the department or the qui tam plaintiff shall be required to prove all essential elements of the cause of action, including damages, by a preponderance of the evidence.
(2) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a final judgment or decree rendered in favor of the state or the Federal Government in any criminal proceeding concerning the conduct of the defendant that forms the basis for a civil cause of action under this act, whether upon a verdict after trial or upon a plea of guilty or nolo contendere, shall estop the defendant in any action by the department pursuant to this act as to all matters as to which such judgment or decree would be an estoppel as if the department had been a party in the criminal proceeding.
Fla. Stat. §68.091 – Construction and severability of provisions
(1) This act shall be liberally construed to effectuate its remedial and deterrent purposes.
(2) If any provision of this act or its application to any particular person or circumstance is held invalid, that provision or its application is severable and does not affect the validity of other provisions or applications of this act.
Fla. Stat. §68.092 – Deposit of recovered moneys
All moneys recovered by the Chief Financial Officer as head of the Department of Financial Services under s. 68.086(1) in any civil action for violation of the Florida False Claims Act shall be deposited in the Administrative Trust Fund of the Department of Financial Services.
- Relevant Statutes:
Section 112.3187 – Adverse action against employee for disclosing information of specified nature prohibited; employee remedy and relief
(1) SHORT TITLE.-Sections 112.3187-112.31895 may be cited as the “Whistle-blower’s Act.”
(2) LEGISLATIVE INTENT.-It is the intent of the Legislature to prevent agencies or independent contractors from taking retaliatory action against an employee who reports to an appropriate agency violations of law on the part of a public employer or independent contractor that create a substantial and specific danger to the public’s health, safety, or welfare. It is further the intent of the Legislature to prevent agencies or independent contractors from taking retaliatory action against any person who discloses information to an appropriate agency alleging improper use of governmental office, gross waste of funds, or any other abuse or gross neglect of duty on the part of an agency, public officer, or employee.
(3) DEFINITIONS.-As used in this act, unless otherwise specified, the following words or terms shall have the meanings indicated:
(a) “Adverse personnel action” means the discharge, suspension, transfer, or demotion of any employee or the withholding of bonuses, the reduction in salary or benefits, or any other adverse action taken against an employee within the terms and conditions of employment by an agency or independent contractor.
(b) “Agency” means any state, regional, county, local, or municipal government entity, whether executive, judicial, or legislative; any official, officer, department, division, bureau, commission, authority, or political subdivision therein; or any public school, community college, or state university.
(c) “Employee” means a person who performs services for, and under the control and direction of, or contracts with, an agency or independent contractor for wages or other remuneration.
(d) “Gross mismanagement” means a continuous pattern of managerial abuses, wrongful or arbitrary and capricious actions, or fraudulent or criminal conduct which may have a substantial adverse economic impact.
(e) “Independent contractor” means a person, other than an agency, engaged in any business and who enters into a contract, including a provider agreement, with an agency.
(4) ACTIONS PROHIBITED.-
(a) An agency or independent contractor shall not dismiss, discipline, or take any other adverse personnel action against an employee for disclosing information pursuant to the provisions of this section.
(b) An agency or independent contractor shall not take any adverse action that affects the rights or interests of a person in retaliation for the person’s disclosure of information under this section.
(c) The provisions of this subsection shall not be applicable when an employee or person discloses information known by the employee or person to be false.
(5) NATURE OF INFORMATION DISCLOSED.-The information disclosed under this section must include:
(a) Any violation or suspected violation of any federal, state, or local law, rule, or regulation committed by an employee or agent of an agency or independent contractor which creates and presents a substantial and specific danger to the public’s health, safety, or welfare.
(b) Any act or suspected act of gross mismanagement, malfeasance, misfeasance, gross waste of public funds, suspected or actual Medicaid fraud or abuse, or gross neglect of duty committed by an employee or agent of an agency or independent contractor.
(6) TO WHOM INFORMATION DISCLOSED.-The information disclosed under this section must be disclosed to any agency or federal government entity having the authority to investigate, police, manage, or otherwise remedy the violation or act, including, but not limited to, the Office of the Chief Inspector General, an agency inspector general or the employee designated as agency inspector general under s. 112.3189(1) or inspectors general under s. 20.055, the Florida Commission on Human Relations, and the whistle-blower’s hotline created under s. 112.3189. However, for disclosures concerning a local governmental entity, including any regional, county, or municipal entity, special district, community college district, or school district or any political subdivision of any of the foregoing, the information must be disclosed to a chief executive officer as defined in s. 447.203(9) or other appropriate local official.
(7) EMPLOYEES AND PERSONS PROTECTED.-This section protects employees and persons who disclose information on their own initiative in a written and signed complaint; who are requested to participate in an investigation, hearing, or other inquiry conducted by any agency or federal government entity; who refuse to participate in any adverse action prohibited by this section; or who initiate a complaint through the whistle-blower’s hotline or the hotline of the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit of the Department of Legal Affairs; or employees who file any written complaint to their supervisory officials or employees who submit a complaint to the Chief Inspector General in the Executive Office of the Governor, to the employee designated as agency inspector general under s. 112.3189(1), or to the Florida Commission on Human Relations. The provisions of this section may not be used by a person while he or she is under the care, custody, or control of the state correctional system or, after release from the care, custody, or control of the state correctional system, with respect to circumstances that occurred during any period of incarceration. No remedy or other protection under ss. 112.3187-112.31895 applies to any person who has committed or intentionally participated in committing the violation or suspected violation for which protection under ss. 112.3187-112.31895 is being sought.
(a) Any employee of or applicant for employment with any state agency, as the term “state agency” is defined in s. 216.011, who is discharged, disciplined, or subjected to other adverse personnel action, or denied employment, because he or she engaged in an activity protected by this section may file a complaint, which complaint must be made in accordance with s. 112.31895. Upon receipt of notice from the Florida Commission on Human Relations of termination of the investigation, the complainant may elect to pursue the administrative remedy available under s. 112.31895 or bring a civil action within 180 days after receipt of the notice.
(b) Within 60 days after the action prohibited by this section, any local public employee protected by this section may file a complaint with the appropriate local governmental authority, if that authority has established by ordinance an administrative procedure for handling such complaints or has contracted with the Division of Administrative Hearings under s. 120.65 to conduct hearings under this section. The administrative procedure created by ordinance must provide for the complaint to be heard by a panel of impartial persons appointed by the appropriate local governmental authority. Upon hearing the complaint, the panel must make findings of fact and conclusions of law for a final decision by the local governmental authority. Within 180 days after entry of a final decision by the local governmental authority, the public employee who filed the complaint may bring a civil action in any court of competent jurisdiction. If the local governmental authority has not established an administrative procedure by ordinance or contract, a local public employee may, within 180 days after the action prohibited by this section, bring a civil action in a court of competent jurisdiction. For the purpose of this paragraph, the term “local governmental authority” includes any regional, county, or municipal entity, special district, community college district, or school district or any political subdivision of any of the foregoing.
(c) Any other person protected by this section may, after exhausting all available contractual or administrative remedies, bring a civil action in any court of competent jurisdiction within 180 days after the action prohibited by this section.
(9) RELIEF.-In any action brought under this section, the relief must include the following:
(a) Reinstatement of the employee to the same position held before the adverse action was commenced, or to an equivalent position or reasonable front pay as alternative relief.
(b) Reinstatement of the employee’s full fringe benefits and seniority rights, as appropriate.
(c) Compensation, if appropriate, for lost wages, benefits, or other lost remuneration caused by the adverse action.
(d) Payment of reasonable costs, including attorney’s fees, to a substantially prevailing employee, or to the prevailing employer if the employee filed a frivolous action in bad faith.
(e) Issuance of an injunction, if appropriate, by a court of competent jurisdiction.
(f) Temporary reinstatement to the employee’s former position or to an equivalent position, pending the final outcome on the complaint, if an employee complains of being discharged in retaliation for a protected disclosure and if a court of competent jurisdiction or the Florida Commission on Human Relations, as applicable under s. 112.31895, determines that the disclosure was not made in bad faith or for a wrongful purpose or occurred after an agency’s initiation of a personnel action against the employee which includes documentation of the employee’s violation of a disciplinary standard or performance deficiency. This paragraph does not apply to an employee of a municipality.
(10) DEFENSES.-It shall be an affirmative defense to any action brought pursuant to this section that the adverse action was predicated upon grounds other than, and would have been taken absent, the employee’s or person’s exercise of rights protected by this section.
(11) EXISTING RIGHTS.-Sections 112.3187-112.31895 do not diminish the rights, privileges, or remedies of an employee under any other law or rule or under any collective bargaining agreement or employment contract; however, the election of remedies in s. 447.401 also applies to whistle-blower actions.