Tag Archives: Sarbanes-Oxley

Second Circuit Confirms Burden of Proof in SOX Whistleblower Retaliation Cases

By:  John F. Fullerton III

On March 5, 2013, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals clarified the burden-shifting framework applicable to whistleblower retaliation claims under Section 806 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1514A.  In Bechtel v. Administrative Review Board et al., (pdf), the Court issued a decision, consistent with prior decisions of several other Circuits, that affirmed the burden of proof standard applied by the Administrative Review Board (ARB) in its decision, which affirmed an administrative law judge’s (ALJ) decision that had dismissed the employee’s retaliation claim, but applied an erroneous standard in so doing.

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District Court Holds That Dodd-Frank’s Extension of Sarbanes-Oxley Whistleblower Protection to Employees of Subsidiaries of Public Companies Applies Retroactively

by Allen B. Roberts, Frank C. Morris, Jr., Stuart M. Gerson, and Michael J. Slocum

The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 (“Dodd-Frank”) extended Sarbanes-Oxley’s whistleblower protection provision beyond employees of publicly-traded companies to reach the employees of their privately-held subsidiaries as well.  Reasoning that this extension was “a clarification of Congress’s intent with respect to the Sarbanes-Oxley whistleblower provision,” a federal court held that the extension applies retroactively to cover whistleblowers whose claims arise from events predating the Dodd-Frank amendments. Leshinsky v. Telvent GIT, S.A., No. 10-4511, (S.D.N.Y. July 9, 2012).

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Sarbanes-Oxley Whistleblower Coverage Expanded by Department of Labor to Private Firms Serving Publicly Traded Companies – Accountants, Lawyers, Consultants, and Advisors, Beware!

by Frank C. Morris, Jr., and Allen B. Roberts

The U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) Administrative Review Board (“ARB”) has sounded an alarm that needs to be heard by accounting firms, law firms, and other consultants, advisors, and providers of services to publicly traded companies.  With its recent decision in Spinner v. David Landau & Associates, LLC, ARB Case Nos. 10-111, 10-115 (May 31, 2012), the ARB continued its expansion of whistleblower protection, holding that Sarbanes-Oxley (“SOX”) whistleblower protections extend to employees of privately held businesses that merely contract with publicly traded companies.  The ARB’s decision significantly expands the number and type of organizations whose employees it says are covered by SOX whistleblower protections.  But the result was accomplished by direct rejection of the opposite conclusion reached by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in its well-reasoned recent decision in Lawson v. FMR LLC, 670 F.3d 61 (1st Cir. 2012).  While this is not the first instance of contrasting administrative and judicial interpretations of the definition and reach of SOX protections, it clearly indicates the current climate in which a wide swath of employers need to reassess their compliance programs, provisions for receipt of whistleblower reports, and procedures for addressing claims and avoiding retaliation.

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Sarbanes-Oxley Whistleblower Coverage Expanded by Department of Labor to Private Firms Serving Publicly Traded Companies – Accountants, Lawyers, Consultants, and Advisors, Beware!

by Frank C. Morris, Jr., and Allen B. Roberts

The U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) Administrative Review Board (“ARB”) has sounded an alarm that needs to be heard by accounting firms, law firms, and other consultants, advisors, and providers of services to publicly traded companies.  With its recent decision in Spinner v. David Landau & Associates, LLC, ARB Case Nos. 10-111, 10-115 (May 31, 2012), the ARB continued its expansion of whistleblower protection, holding that Sarbanes-Oxley (“SOX”) whistleblower protections extend to employees of privately held businesses that merely contract with publicly traded companies.  The ARB’s decision significantly expands the number and type of organizations whose employees it says are covered by SOX whistleblower protections.  But the result was accomplished by direct rejection of the opposite conclusion reached by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in its well-reasoned recent decision in Lawson v. FMR LLC, 670 F.3d 61 (1st Cir. 2012).  While this is not the first instance of contrasting administrative and judicial interpretations of the definition and reach of SOX protections, it clearly indicates the current climate in which a wide swath of employers need to reassess their compliance programs, provisions for receipt of whistleblower reports, and procedures for addressing claims and avoiding retaliation.

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New FINRA Rule Confirms That Whistleblower Claims Need Not Be Arbitrated

Before the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (“Dodd Frank”) was enacted, whistleblower claims by registered representatives, including those arising pursuant to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (“SOX”) were subject to mandatory arbitration at FINRA.  See FINRA Regulatory Notice 12-21 (PDF).  Dodd Frank changed that.  Dodd Frank specifically amended SOX to provide that “[n]o dispute arbitration agreement shall be valid or enforceable, if the agreement requires arbitration of a dispute arising under this section.”  In addition, SOX was also amended to provide that rights and remedies provided for in the statute cannot be waived, including by having a predispute arbitration agreement.  In order to be consistent with SOX and to make it clear that FINRA will not require the arbitration of other similar statutory claims, as of May 21, 2012, FINRA amended Rule 13201 of the Code of Arbitration Procedure for Industry Disputes (the “FINRA Code”) to address the arbitrability of statutory whistleblower claims.

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Expansion of Protected Activity Under Sarbanes-Oxley Continues

By:  Allen B. Roberts and Frank C. Morris, Jr.

Continuing its trend from 2011, the Department of Labor (DOL) Administrative Review Board (ARB) seems intent on extending whistleblower protection under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (SOX) beyond allegations of securities fraud – even where that means reversal of its own administrative law judges who believe they are applying the law as Congress intended and consistent with ARB precedent. For now, whistleblowers and their attorneys can expect a more hospitable reception in this administrative forum for innovative claims alleging that adverse employment actions have occurred in reprisal for activity claimed to be covered by SOX Section 806. 

 

The ARB’s March 28, 2012 decision in Zinn v. American Commercial Lines Inc. (pdf) builds from the groundbreaking May 2011 holding in Sylvester v. Paraxel, Int’l LLC that “a reasonable belief about a violation of any rule or regulation of the Securities and Exchange Commission could encompass a situation in which the violation, if committed, is completely devoid of any type of fraud,” and a whistleblower need not prove fraud to win a retaliation claim. Zinn, at 8. Further, even if the whistleblower’s belief is mistaken, and no actual violation of the law has occurred, whistleblower protections are available and will be enforced.  Id. at 10.

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SOX Recap

Allen B. Roberts and Stuart Gerson are co-authors of the recent Law360 article Examining The Purpose Of Sarbanes-Oxley. This summary of recent Administrative Review Board actions explains the shift in the standards whistleblowers must meet, and how employers should prepare for this new era of litigation.

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Sarbanes-Oxley "Protected Activity" Wins a Broad Interpretation – But Is the Decision Faithful to Congressional Intent?

By: Allen B. Roberts, Stuart M. Gerson and Daniel J. Schuch

In a case packed with allegations of the kind rarely found beyond the script of a soap opera, the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) Administrative Review Board (“ARB”) determined that protected activity under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (“SOX”) does not require a showing of fraud against shareholders. Rather, per the ARB, it is sufficient that an employee reasonably believes conventional mail or wire fraud has occurred. The holding in Brown v. Lockheed Martin Corp. (pdf) evidences the ARB’s adherence to a literal, and clinical, construction of SOX – and serves as a clear indication of the ARB’s willingness to reach beyond the underlying objectives envisioned by Congress in the wake of the infamous collapse of Enron and WorldCom. If upheld and followed, Brown effectively expands SOX whistleblower protections well beyond the intended beneficiary of the law – the “innocent investor.”

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Sarbanes-Oxley Whistleblower Complaint Dismissed for Failure to Enumerate Basis of Statutory Protection

An in-house patent attorney who protested that his employer knowingly assigned a $50 million value to acquire patents alleged to be worthless could not link his discharge to whistleblower activity protected by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. Affirming dismissal in Vodopia v. Koninklijke Philips Electronics, N.V., et al., the Second Circuit Court of Appeals observed that: (1) the complaint clearly centered on the plaintiff’s concern that the patents were invalid, not on the value the company assigned to them; and (2) the complaint did not allege that the $50 million value assigned to those patents was ever reported to the public or to shareholders.

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SOX Whistleblower Must Actually Believe Employer’s Conduct Was Illegal, Says Eleventh Circuit

[Ed. Note: We thank our colleague Richard D. Tuschman for this post, which was originally published on EBG’s Florida Employment & Immigration Law Blog]

An employee claiming Whistleblower protection under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act must have actually believed that his company’s conduct was illegal in order to state a claim under the Act, according to a recent decision by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, Gale v. U.S. Department of Labor, Case No. 08-14232 11th Cir. June 25, 2010) (pdf).

The case arose when Michael Gale was terminated from his employment at World Financial Group (“WFG”). Gale filed a Whistleblower complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which enforces the SOX Whistleblower provisions. Gale alleged that he was terminated because he opposed decisions made by company officers relating to waste and misuse of corporate funds, and because he raised concerns regarding the alleged violation of SEC rules and regulations.

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