OSHA’s San Francisco region, which includes California, Nevada, and Arizona, launched a new pilot program on August 1, 2016 that would allow complainants, under certain circumstances, to ask OSHA to cease its investigation and issue findings for an ALJ to consider. The program is an effort to process cases more quickly in the region. To qualify for expedited treatment, the investigator must first interview the complainant, allow the respondent the opportunity to submit its position statement and meet with OSHA and present statements from witnesses if so desired, and allow the complainant an opportunity to respond to the respondent’s submission.
Renee Phillips, partner in the New York office and Co-Head of Orrick’s Whistleblower Task Force, focuses her practice on employment litigation and counseling, with particular emphasis on Sarbanes-Oxley/Dodd-Frank whistleblower issues and internal investigations.
Renee has successfully defended employers in federal and state court litigations as well as administrative proceedings and arbitrations involving claims of discrimination, harassment, wrongful termination, whistleblowing, trade secret misappropriation and other employment-related claims. She regularly counsels employers on a variety of employment-related issues and assists clients in creating and implementing human resources policies, whistleblower policies, negotiating and drafting executive contracts, restrictive covenants and other employment agreements, and conducting internal investigations.
Renee is the co-author of the PLI treatise, Corporate Whistleblowing in the Sarbanes-Oxley/Dodd-Frank Era. She regularly writes and speaks on whistleblower and other employment topics.Representative clients and matters:
- Broadcom. Obtained complete dismissal of a Dodd-Frank whistleblower claim brought by a former in-house counsel.
- Bank of America. Represented the bank in a high-profile Sarbanes-Oxley whistleblower suit at the Department of Labor brought by the former head of its Fraud Investigations Unit.
- Credit Suisse. Obtained complete dismissal of a Sarbanes-Oxley whistleblower case at the Department of Labor, which was affirmed on appeal.
- Wyeth. Successfully represented this client in several Sarbanes-Oxley whistleblower matters.
- Confidential Investigations. Conducted several internal investigations of alleged misconduct by CEOs, Board members, and other C-suite executives at major financial services institutions.
- Carrols Corporation. Represented Carrols Corporation, the largest holder of Burger King franchises, in the largest pattern or practice systemic class action for sexual harassment ever brought by the EEOC, EEOC v. Carrols.
- Sephora. Won a Second Circuit appeal in a national origin and religious discrimination case.
- Genentech. Won a Third Circuit appeal in a gender discrimination case.
- Holland & Knight LLP. Obtained a seminal decision in Weir v.
Holland & Knight LLP, which held that law firm partners are not covered
by statutory discrimination protections.
Posts by: Renee Phillips
Today, the SEC announced that an Atlanta-based company, BlueLinx Holdings, is settling charges that its severance agreements contained provisions that it in its view might impede employees from communicating directly with the SEC about possible securities law violations. The company has agreed to pay a $265,000 sanction and to engage in other corrective actions as described below.
The specific provision at issue provided:
- Employee further acknowledges and agrees that nothing in this Agreement prevents Employee from filing a charge with…the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the National Labor Relations Board, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Securities and Exchange Commission or any other administrative agency if applicable law requires that Employee be permitted to do so; however, Employee understands and agrees that Employee is waiving the right to any monetary recovery in connection with any such complaint or charge that Employee may file with an administrative agency. (Emphasis added.)
With respect to this bounty waiver, the Commission stated that “by requiring its departing employees to forgo any monetary recovery in connection with providing information to the Commission, BlueLinx removed the critically important financial incentives that are intended to encourage persons to communicate directly with the Commission staff about possible securities law violations.”
Last week, Germany’s Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin) unveiled a centralized platform for receiving whistleblower complaints, including anonymous complaints, of alleged violations of supervisory provisions within the financial sector. The move appears to represent a shift in German ideology toward a more favorable view of anonymous reporting, which for many years was discouraged in Germany and more broadly in the EU due to the risk of “organized systems of denouncement.” Under the new program, whistleblowers may submit reports in writing (on paper or electronically), by phone (with or without recording the conversation), or verbally. BaFin’s press release announcing the program states that it will make the anonymity of whistleblowers a “top priority,” and that it will not pass on the identity of whistleblowers to third parties. The program is “aimed at person with a special knowledge of a company’s internal affairs – for example because they are employed there or have some other contractual relationship or relationship of trust with the company.”
BaFin was required to implement this new platform due to an amendment to the German Act on Financial Services Supervision. Notably, the Act only applies to the financial services sector, not including external accountants, tax consultants and attorneys. It provides that employees working in the financial services sector may not be held liable for reporting potential or actual breaches of law under either employment law or criminal law, unless the report was false or grossly negligent.
*This post was drafted with contribution from Ashley Gambone, law clerk.
Affirming a SOX victory for an employee, the Fourth Circuit in a 2-1 decision in Gunther v. Deltek upheld a Department of Labor award of four-years of front pay to a former financial analyst of a software firm and also affirmed an award of tuition reimbursement for a four-year, full time, college degree program. The Fourth Circuit’s Gunther decision discusses the standards for proving or disproving a causal connection in SOX cases, for meeting the after-acquired evidence standard to cut off damages, and for proving entitlement to front pay and other damages under SOX.
On Friday, May 20th, the SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower issued an order determining that it would award two whistleblowers $450,000 for voluntarily providing original information to the agency that led to a successful enforcement action. The two tipsters will split the award evenly. While the order does not provide any specific facts related to the action or the parties, the SEC’s press release describes it as a “corporate accounting investigation.”
Last Friday, the SEC announced a whistleblower award of more than $3.5 million to an employee whose tip advanced an SEC investigation into the whistleblower’s company. According to the Order, while the information the whistleblower provided did not cause the SEC to open a new line of inquiry, the information “significantly contributed” to the SEC’s ongoing investigation by focusing the Commission on a particular issue and providing the agency with additional settlement leverage during its negotiations with the company.
With the rise of the cybersecurity whistleblower, there is a growing trend of whistleblower-initiated regulatory investigations. In this Law360 article, Orrick attorneys Renee Phillips, Aravind Swaminathan, and Shea Leitch examine the DOJ’s investigation, prompted by a cybersecurity whistleblower, into whether Tiversa Holding Corp. provided false information to the Federal Trade Commission about data breaches at companies that declined to purchase its data protection services. The article discusses what companies can do to protect themselves against this growing risk.
The Department of Labor’s Administrative Review Board (“ARB”) recently upheld an order finding a semiconductor company had constructively discharged a manager who complained the company’s bonus plan violated state wage and hour laws, and in doing so, broadly interpreted the protections offered under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (“SOX” or “Act”).
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (“OECD”), an international organization whose goal is to promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people across the world, recently published a report entitled “Committing to Effective Whistleblower Protection” (the “Report”). A booklet containing the highlights of the report is available here. In the Report, the OECD reviews whistleblower laws and practices within its 34 member countries, making it a useful resource for multinational companies doing business around the world.