Renee B. Phillips

Partner

New York


Read full biography at www.orrick.com

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

Germany’s Financial Regulator Establishes New Whistleblower Platform

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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.

In addition to BaFin’s own platform, the Act requires covered financial institutions to provide internal procedures for employees to report violations of supervisory rules, including anonymously. However, the Act provides no details as to implementation, Board responsibilities, or the protection of whistleblowers. Therefore, banks and insurers will want to stay abreast of further developments in this area.

Notably, the German Act implements an EU regulation recently adopted, and reporting procedures regarding violations of supervisory rules are currently being harmonized throughout Europe.  As a result, financial institutions can expect similar provisions to be enacted in other EU jurisdictions. The German act is also another example of the growing efforts of governments to encourage reporting of wrongdoing to regulators. For example, the Ontario Securities Commission recently enacted regulations patterned after Dodd-Frank which will become effective on July 14 that establish a whistleblower office at OSC which will provide for cash awards to whistleblowers whose reports result in enforcement actions and fines.

In light of these important developments, companies with German operations, particularly in the financial services sector, should review and update their whistleblower policies and procedures to ensure they are in accordance with the new law and with best practices.  Companies will want to have robust mechanisms for employees, as well as vendors and other third parties, to report violations of law internally and for those concerns to be promptly and properly investigated.  By creating a trusting environment for whistleblowers to report internally, a company can go a long way toward uncovering and remedying violations of law quickly and effectively and without regulatory intervention.

It’s All a Matter of Degree – Fourth Circuit Upholds Four-Year Front Pay Award and Tuition Reimbursement in SOX Case

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*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.

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Hittin’ The Trifecta: Latest Whistleblower Bounty Makes Three Awards In One Week

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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.”

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Tipping the Scales: Whistleblower Awarded $3.5 Million For Information That Advanced SEC Investigation

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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.

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O Canada: The U.S.’s Neighbor To The North Proposes Its Own Whistleblower Program

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The Ontario Securities Commission (“OSC”), Canada’s largest securities regulator, has proposed establishing its own whistleblower program for individuals to report suspected securities fraud, marking Canada’s first foray into establishing such a system.

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Avoiding The Risk Of Cybersecurity Whistleblowers

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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.

Bonus Points: ARB Upholds Whistleblower Order Challenging Bonus Plan

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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”).

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Can You Hear The Whistle Blowing?: OECD Releases Report On Global Whistleblower Protections

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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.

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Three’s Company: SEC Awards Nearly $2 Million to Whistleblower Trio

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On March 8, 2016, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued an order awarding a trio of whistleblowers a bounty of almost $2 million.

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Where Have You Gone Dennis Kozlowski? Third Circuit Dismisses Tyco Employee’s Whistleblower Claim Over Excessive Corporate Spending

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On February 2, 2016, the Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a long-running SOX whistleblower suit filed by Jeffrey Wiest, a former accounts payable manager for Tyco Electronics.  The decision is the first in which the Third Circuit has defined the “contributing factor” causation standard for SOX retaliation cases and provides helpful guidance on the issue.

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