The only thing worse than getting a school lunch is not getting a school
lunch. Or being handed a plate of spoiled food.
This month D.C. schoolchildren tasted sweet revenge when the contractor
providing their school lunches agreed to settle a False Claims Act suit
brought by Jeffrey Mills, the former head of food services for the D.C.
School District. Food services contractor Chartwells agreed to pay D.C.
$19.4 million to end the suit, and whistleblower Mills will get up to
30% of that amount.
Whistleblower Gets Fed Up with School Lunch Contractor
Sure, kids complain about the school lunch. It’s pretty close to
a time-honored tradition. But for some children, the food they get at
school is the only food they get all day. And whistleblower Jeffrey Mills
reported that the contractor providing the lunches to the D.C. public
schools was doing more than serving food that tasted bad — it was
serving the kids spoiled meals.
According to Mills’ False Claims Act lawsuit, some kids never even
got meals; because Chartwells-Thompson understaffed the cafeterias, some
kids spent the whole lunch period standing in line trying to pick up the
lunch. At the end of the lunch period, the kids got moved along to their
next classes, still hungry.
Mills also said that the meals that Chartwells did serve to the kids did
not measure up to the nutritional requirements set out under the D.C.
Healthy School Acts.
Mills says that, adding insult to injury, Chartwells overstocked food,
resulting in wasted food and, of course, taxpayer dollars. The food services
company also had agreed to pass on rebates to the D.C. school system,
but Mills says the rebates Chartwells turned over were short by millions
But Mills says when he reported the problems, the school system pressured
him to stop making waves. When he would not, the school system marginalized
him, falsely accused him of unethical conduct, stripped him of his duties
and finally fired him.
Schoolkids Eat Contractor’s Lunch With $19.4 Million Settlement
It doesn’t make up for going hungry or getting sick from spoiled
food, but D.C.’s schoolchildren got some comfort food this month,
when Chartwells agreed to pay the D.C. school district $19.4 million to
resolve Mills’ FCA lawsuit. Under D.C.’s False Claims Act,
Mills will get a portion of the pie – up to 30%, according to my
friend and fellow whistleblower lawyer, Colette Matzzie at Phillips &
Cohen, who represented Mills.
D.C. Paid Whistleblower $450,000 in
Last year the District of Columbia paid Mills $450,000 to resolve the claims
that it retaliated against him.
The fact that Mills was fired was not just wrong, but ironic. Mills had
been widely praised for his efforts to make the school lunches healthier
and to reign in the costs so that the district could provide more meals,
including some after-school suppers for kids who otherwise could be heading
home to none. Even after he was fired, he would not stop fighting for
the kids, and so he filed his whistleblower suit. Mills is the kind of
person you want to be in charge of school lunches, because he is clearly
in it for all the right reasons.
D.C.’s schoolchildren – and the rest of us, as well –
owe a debt of gratitude to Mills and his lawyer, Colette Matzzie.