Tag Archives: whistleblowing compliance law

Bloomberg Article Examines Whistleblower Awards and Protections under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act

In the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank), Congress has crafted an array of bounty awards and whistleblower protections broadly affecting securities, commodities and futures, and consumer financial products firms and those associated with them. Although there was an opportunity to create incentives promoting internal reporting in aid of corporate compliance programs and to rationalize whistleblowing with standardized definitions, procedures and remedies, Congress went in different directions. The result is a set of whistleblower inducements that may frustrate attainment of corporate compliance objectives by driving whistleblowers outside the organization and an enigmatic patchwork of whistleblower protections laden with internal variations that must be mastered.

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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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Bloomberg Law Video of Allen Roberts Interview on Whistleblower Rights and Protections in Wall Street Financial Reform Bill

We continue to follow developments on Wall Street financial reform legislation and the whistleblower rights and protections that will come with its enactment. Now recast as the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the bill will be considered with its Conference Report (pdf).

A preview of the legislation is addressed in the interview of Allen Roberts by Bloomberg legal analyst Spencer Mazyck, now available in video, below:


 

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Whistleblowing Takes New Turn with Mandated Reporting Imposed by PPACA’s Elder Justice Act

By: Allen B. Roberts, Victoria M. Sloan

The typical set of protections or awards featured in a familiar array of whistleblower statutes has a new entrant with the imposition of mandated reporting in the Elder Justice Act section of the recently enacted Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“PPACA”). In a notable departure from other laws, the Elder Justice Act provides that every individual employed by or associated with a long-term care facility as an owner, operator, agent or contractor has an independent obligation to report a “reasonable suspicion” of a crime affecting residents or recipients of care. Reports must be made directly to both the Secretary of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) and one or more law enforcement entities in as little as two hours following the formation of the reasonable suspicion.

Although limited to reports of crimes against residents and recipients of services of long-term care facilities, the mandate of the Elder Justice Act sets a new standard of conduct – and backs it up with stiff penalties affecting long-term care facilities and those associated with them.

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Bloomberg Law Interviews Allen B. Roberts

A new wave of whistleblower monetary awards and protections will come to the financial services industry once the Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010 (RAFSA) is enacted. With final resolution of differences between House and Senate versions accomplished, both houses of Congress now will consider the conference committee bill.

Bloomberg legal analyst Spencer Mazyck has been following whistleblowing changes we are likely to see with the anticipated enactment of RAFSA. Spencer explored with me some contours and ramifications of the pending legislation during 20-minute Bloomberg podcast.

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ARB Clarifies Burden Whistleblowers Bear for Equitable Extension of SOX Statute of Limitations

On the heels of its 2-1 decision in Hyman v. KD Resources, allowing equitable estoppel to extend the Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) statute of limitations (noted in our blog posting of April 20, 2010), the Department of Labor Administrative Review Board (ARB) has issued a unanimous decision clarifying the burden for whistleblowers to survive dismissal of complaints that are not filed within the explicit 90-day statute of limitations. Daryanani v. Royal & Sun Alliance, ARB No. 08-106, ALJ No. 2007-SOX-79 (ARB May 27, 2010).

Adhering to the principle that equitable estoppel may apply when certain employer conduct interferes with a whistleblower-employee’s exercise of rights, the ARB nevertheless refused to extend the SOX statute of limitations on the basis of alleged inaction by an employer. Holding equitable estoppel would not be available in the circumstances, the ARB observed that the employer had no affirmative obligation to:

  • inform the employee of potential causes of action,
  • inform the employee of time limitations applicable under statutes creating a cause of action, or
  • counter-sign a severance release agreement within the statute of limitations deadline.
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ARB Adopts Iqbal and Dismisses Whistleblower Complaint Lacking Factual Link to Statute Invoked

Employers bewildered by ambiguous whistleblower complaints have a newfound ability to win dismissal where the facts pleaded do not show protected activity and articulate an entitlement to relief. The decision by the Administrative Review Board (ARB) in Evans v. United States Environmental Protection Agency (ARB Apr. 30, 2010) (pdf) adopts and applies the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Ashcroft v. Iqbal (pdf), which holds that a complaint is subject to dismissal if it fails to plead sufficient facts to state a claim.

A 2-member majority of the ARB upheld dismissal of a complaint about “compliance issues”, because it did not articulate factual allegations showing that the underlying action was within the reach of federal whistleblower statutes.  Having failed to ground his complaint in the environmental laws he invoked, the whistleblower was not able to survive dismissal of his retaliation claims. 

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Beyond the Administrative Process — Courts Show Receptivity to Arbitration of Certain Whistleblower Claims

Like several other statutes, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (“SOX”) requires whistleblowers to initiate their complaints by an administrative filing with the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration. But when a preferred outcome in that designated arena appears unlikely, a whistleblower may be allowed to abandon the administrative process before a final order issues and seek a new opportunity in court.  Faced with the prospect of another round of de novo litigation, employers may turn increasingly to pre-dispute arbitration agreements as an alternative to litigating in court.

As exemplified by Stone v. Instrumentation Laboratory Co.(4th Cir. 2009) (pdf), filing an administrative complaint and participating in the administrative process, as required by SOX, do not foreclose access to a federal court before the issuance of a final administrative order. The court explained that the preclusion doctrine, intended to avoid duplicative litigation, does not bar de novo consideration by a federal district court if a lawsuit is filed at least 180 days after the administrative filing and before the Department of Labor has issued a final decision, even where administrative proceedings have progressed to Administrative Review Board consideration of an administrative law judge’s dismissal of a complaint. 

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New Healthcare Legislation Brings FLSA Whistleblower Protections

By Allen B. Roberts, Douglas Weiner

While most attention in the legislative and political process leading to enactment of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“PPACA”) focused on the significant impact on the delivery of health care, employers need to be aware, also, of amendments to the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). The FLSA amendments impose certain employer responsibilities in providing health care benefits, confer whistleblower protections and authorize the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) to undertake increased enforcement related to health care.

While other features of the FLSA amendments are addressed in our client alert, “Health Care Reform Legislation Amends the Fair Labor Standards Act to Give the U.S. Department of Labor Increased Enforcement Authority over Health Care,” here is a summary of whistleblower protections:

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Newly Constituted Administrative Review Board Allows Equitable Considerations to Extend 90-Day Statute of Limitations for Whistleblower Claims

By: Allen B. Roberts, Victoria M. Sloan

Employers who thought they were free of exposure if no complaint was filed within the statute of limitations applicable in Sarbanes-Oxley (“SOX”) and other whistleblower claims administered by the Secretary of Labor need to recalibrate their risk based on a recent decision allowing equitable estoppel.

In Hyman v. KD Resources, an employee missed the 90-day SOX statute of limitations by filing his complaint 160 days after he was discharged. Two newly appointed members of the Administrative Review Board (“ARB”) allowed the complaint to survive and remanded it to the Administrative Law Judge who had dismissed it as untimely.

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