Mestek v. Lac Courte Oreilles Community Health Center, No. 22-2077 (7th Cir. 2023)Annotate this Case
The Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians is a federally recognized tribe in northwestern Wisconsin. In 2013 the Tribe’s Community Health Center hired Mestek as the Director of Health Information. In 2017 the Health Center implemented a new electronic health records system. Mestek soon raised questions about how the new system operated, expressing concern to management that the Center was improperly billing Medicare and Medicaid. An eventual external audit of the Center’s billing practices uncovered several problems. After receiving the audit results in 2018, Bae, the head of the Health Center, called Mestek into her office to ask if she was “loyal.” Mestek answered yes, but persisted in her efforts to uncover billing irregularities. A month later, Mestek learned that she was being fired in a meeting with the Medical Director and the HR Director. Mestek sued the Health Center and six individuals (in both their personal and official capacities) under the False Claims Act’s anti-retaliation provision, 31 U.S.C. 3730(h). The district court dismissed.
The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The doctrine of tribal sovereign immunity precluded Mestek from proceeding; the Health Center is an arm of the Tribe. The individual employee defendants also properly invoked the Tribe’s immunity because Mestek sued them in their official capacities.