Susan meets with the Halunen Law False Claims Act/Whistleblower team, (l.) Lon Leavitt, Gerald Robinson, and Nathaniel Smith. (Halunenlaw.com)
Susan Coler, BVM is dedicated to protecting and representing the whistleblowers—the ones who courageously report and challenge illegal conduct. She is particularly focused on representing whistleblowers who bring claims under the False Claims Act, a law enacted during the Civil War, which allows private individuals to blow the whistle on corporations who engage in fraud against the U.S. Government.
As a Minnesota State Bar Association Employment Law Specialist, Susan has fought hard to protect whistleblowers and other employees and has won substantial civil settlements, commenting, “It is so satisfying to help employees stand up for their rights, make their employers accountable, and then move on in their lives.”
Since 2008, she has been consistently named “Super Lawyer” and received the Karla Wahl Dedicated Advocacy Award in 2015 from the Minnesota chapter of the National Employment Lawyers Association.
Being a “Super Lawyer” might seem an unusual career path for a former Mundelein College music professor in Chicago, but as Susan explains, “I was at a point in my career where I had to either seek a Ph.D. in an academic field or do something else.”
Susan explains that she was attracted to pursuing something that was more directly justice related. “Law made sense because it allowed me to use my skills in analysis and writing more directly to work for justice. And actually, there is a lot of creativity involved in what I do.”
That decision changed the course of her life and ministry. After receiving her J.D. from Northwestern Pritzger School of Law in Chicago, she returned to her hometown of St. Paul, Minn., where she served as a law clerk for the Honorable Robert G. Renner in the U.S. District Court, in the District of Minnesota.
Later, she worked as an employment discrimination attorney, representing employees who experienced discrimination of all types, sexual and racial harassment, and retaliation. She also worked on class actions challenging, for example, race discrimination at Northwest Airlines, a gender hostile work environment in the trucking industry, age discrimination at 3M and in the television writing industry.
Susan was first introduced to the False Claims Act and fraud against the government by an employment client who believed that her pharmaceutical company was illegally marketing a drug. “I learned about the False Claims Act, found it challenging and satisfying, and eventually persuaded my law firm, Halunen Law, to establish a False Claims Act practice group.”
Much of the fraud reported by Susan’s clients relates to Medicare/Medicaid, but fraud occurs in all aspects of the government, including procurement, defense contracting, pharmaceuticals, small business funding, and research of all kinds.
“The extent of fraud against the government is shocking and it can result in many kinds of harm. Cases we see include physicians performing unnecessary surgeries, defective bullet proof vests being sold to the Army, companies overcharging the government, and of course, the rampant abuse of COVID-19 Paycheck Protection Program loans.”
Besides building fraud cases with her clients, Susan works closely with attorneys from the Department of Justice, and often faces defense attorneys from large corporate law firms. These cases are all high risk because Halunen Law represents clients on a contingency basis. This means that the clients do not have to pay anything unless the case is successfully resolved, in which case the defendant pays the fees, or they are paid as a portion of what the client receives.
Without this kind of fee arrangement, most clients would not be able to afford representation. Susan says, “It is an honor to work with whistleblowers who take tremendous risks in doing what they think is right and taking a stand against very powerful forces. The likelihood that they will be terminated from their jobs and experience other kinds of retaliation is strong . . . their courage motivates me every day.”
Justice served and lives changed . . . the Heart of BVM. For Susan, practicing law is an extension of her BVM core values. “Every day my work particularly aligns with justice and education as we work to uncover corporate greed and fraud and to eliminate its harmful impact, particularly in the area of healthcare.” She shares that she will always be an educator in helping clients protect themselves from experiencing retaliation, figuring out how to write a persuasive argument for court, and being an active contributor to her professional circles. She continues, “I’m also able to share what I’ve learned about freedom, inclusiveness, and process in my presence and work as a member of our firm’s management team.”
As a BVM, Susan loves being a part of a circle of friends focused on freedom, justice, love, and service, who “recognize and share with others the limitless presence of the holy, which can be experienced in so many different ways and which can be an unending source of joy and comfort.”
She particularly enjoys sharing conversation with BVM friends and making music together for community celebrations. With her demanding schedule, she hasn’t had much time outside these events to pursue her musical interests, other than “simply enjoying listening to music.” Susan says she would love to learn to play the violin and then jokes, “That may have to wait until my next life!”
Retirement and moving to Mount Carmel Bluffs in Dubuque, Iowa, someday are “all to be determined” as corporate greed lives on, cases continue to line up, people continue to need help, and as our “Super Lawyer” continues to fight the good fight.
About the author: Kari Litscher is a communications specialist for the Sisters of Charity, BVM in Dubuque, Iowa.
SUMMER 2022: Freed by Love: Acting for Justice
In this issue of Salt, we share how the BVMs continue to fight for causes at the Heart of BVM, such as access to affordable healthcare, protecting whistleblowers, leaving behind a healthy planet, and fighting for justice with the National Farm Worker Ministry (NFWM).