The SEC has awarded $2.5 million to a government agency employee who reported misconduct by a company to the SEC and caused the SEC to open an investigation. While the SEC order granting the award acknowledged that government employees may be prohibited from receiving whistleblower awards in some circumstances, such as when the employee works for a “law enforcement organization,” the SEC nevertheless determined that although “certain components of Claimant’s governmental employer have law enforcement responsibilities, [ ] those responsibilities are housed in a separate, different component of the agency at which Claimant works.” The SEC further explained that “the record is clear that this is not a situation where a claimant sought to circumvent the potential responsibilities that his or her government agency might have to investigate or otherwise take action for the misconduct. We express no view on how an award determination might differ under that alternative circumstance.” Ultimately, because the individual provided the Commission with “credible information . . . significant ongoing assistance, and relevant testimony that accelerated the pace of the investigation,” the SEC found the $2.5 million bounty justified.
In a press release announcing the award, the SEC noted it has now awarded approximately $156 million to 45 whistleblowers since the program’s inception.
In the past few years, the American workforce has shifted dramatically. By some estimates, as many as 53 million Americans are now self-employed. Many of them work in the “gig” or “on demand” economy, which has emerged as the new norm for doing business. In general, the gig economy offers traditional services, such as transportation, food delivery, and housing, in a more efficient way by connecting consumers directly to service providers. But, as with many innovations, gig economy companies face challenges from multiple fronts due to mounting legal pressures. Employment laws written in the 1930s haven’t kept up with the pace of innovation, and trying to apply them to the way services are delivered today is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. READ MORE
On June 28, 2017, three prominent whistleblower law regulators spoke at PLI’s Corporate Whistleblowing in 2017, which was co-chaired by Orrick partners Mike Delikat and Renee Phillips. With the standard disclaimer that their comments and opinions were their own and not the official comments of their respective agencies, each spoke candidly about their agencies’ whistleblower program’s progress, challenges, and priorities.
SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower
The Chief of the SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower (“OWB”), Jane Norberg, kicked off the panel with her views on the current status and priorities of the OWB in the new administration: “From my point of view, the SEC’s whistleblower program is open for business and we are moving forward as we have in the past.” She elaborated on the program’s results to date, noting that the Commission has received over 18,000 tips and awarded over $154 million to 44 tipsters, reflecting over $1 billion recovered through the SEC’s enforcement actions and related actions arising from whistleblower tips. Norberg explained, “the real value of the program comes from individuals who help prevent ongoing fraud at a company while also giving victims a chance to recover some of what they lost.” READ MORE
When Donald Trump was elected President of the United States in November, he vowed to “dismantle” the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (“Dodd-Frank”). In its place, Trump promised to replace the law “with new policies to encourage economic growth and job creation.” Now a bill known as the Financial CHOICE Act may initiate the process to do just that. But at least with respect to Dodd-Frank’s whistleblower provisions, the Financial CHOICE Act would leave largely intact the current bounty programs that have already awarded tipsters over $150 million in the U.S. and abroad.
On Tuesday, a federal district court in Florida issued an order in the first known trial involving accessibility to a public accommodation’s website. Ultimately, the court found that grocery giant Winn-Dixie violated Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) because its website was inaccessible to a visually impaired customer. As we have written about previously here and here, currently there are no binding regulations that specify the accessibility standards for websites under Title III of the ADA.
Effective June 7, 2017, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) has withdrawn informal guidance on independent contractors and joint employment. The guidance on independent contractors came from an Administrator’s Interpretation released in 2015 and was the result of the DOL’s renewed focus on worker misclassification. In it, the DOL seized upon a broad definition of “employ” under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”)—“to suffer or permit to work”—to conclude that “most workers are employees under the FLSA.” The DOL’s guidance on joint employment was released in 2016 and also came from an Administrator’s Interpretation. The guidance provided a broad interpretation of joint employment in the wake of the NLRB’s Browning-Ferris decision. It also distinguished between “horizontal” joint employment, which occurs when the employee has an employment relationship with two or more sufficiently related employers, and “vertical” joint employment, which occurs when the employee has an employment relationship with one employer (such a staffing agency or subcontractor), but economic realities show that he or she is economically dependent upon another entity.
In a press release announcing the withdrawn guidance, the DOL noted, “Removal of the administrator interpretations does not change the legal responsibilities of employers under the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, as reflected in the department’s long-standing regulations and case law. The department will continue to fully and fairly enforce all laws within its jurisdiction, including the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act.”
The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), published updated regulations Monday to bring its whistleblower bounty efforts more in line with the SEC’s. The rules were proposed last August and generally provide more robust protections to would-be whistleblowers. According to an agency press release, “In addition to strengthening anti-retaliation protections, the new amendments will add efficiency and transparency to the process of deciding whistleblower award claims and will, in many respects, harmonize the CFTC’s rules with those of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s whistleblower program.” READ MORE
As schools across the country prepare for summer break, the Ninth Circuit overturned a lower court decision against the Fresno County public school district which had found that its pay practices were unlawful. Notably, the Ninth Circuit held that an employer may rely on prior salary as an affirmative defense to claims under the federal Equal Pay Act (“EPA”) if “it show[s] that the factor ‘effectuate[s] some business policy’ and that the employer ‘use[s] the factor reasonably in light of the employer’s stated purpose as well as other practices.’” READ MORE
After the Supreme Court sat with an empty seat for more than one year, and following a hard-fought nominations process which saw the failed nomination of Judge Merrick Garland and Republican lawmakers resorting to the “nuclear option,” the Senate confirmed Neil Gorsuch of the Tenth Circuit to be the next Supreme Court Justice. His first day on the job was Monday, April 17th. But for those who are not familiar with Judge Gorsuch, the question remains: what kind of Justice will he be? READ MORE
The Second Circuit has affirmed the dismissal of a class action of New York City “black car” drivers who alleged they were misclassified as independent contractors by their dispatchers. In reaching its ruling, the Court found that multiple factors of the economic realities test weighed against employee status for the drivers.
Black car drivers provide rides to high-end clientele, such as business executives, celebrities, and dignitaries. In 2012, a class of drivers sued Corporate Transportation Group Ltd. and a number of its affiliates (collectively, the “dispatchers”) alleging they were misclassified as independent contractors in violation of the FLSA and New York Labor Law. After originally granting conditional class certification, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York granted the dispatchers’ motion for summary judgment, concluding the drivers were properly classified as independent contractors under both statutes. READ MORE