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.
Renee B. Phillips
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.
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.
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.
The SEC released its Fiscal Year 2015 Annual Report (the “Report”) to Congress on the Dodd-Frank Whistleblower Program on November 16, 2015. The Report analyzes the tips received over the last twelve months by the SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower (“OWB”), provides additional information about the whistleblower awards to date, and discusses the OWB’s efforts to combat retaliation against whistleblowers.
On September 9, 2015, Sean McKessy, Chief of the SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower (OWB) spoke at Thomson Reuters’ 4th Annual Corporate Whistleblower Program in New York. With the standard disclaimer that his comments and opinions were his own and not the official comments of the agency, McKessy spoke candidly about the SEC whistleblower program’s progress, challenges, and priorities as it enters FY2016.
On August 4, 2015 the Securities and Exchange Commission issued interpretive guidance elaborating its view that the anti-retaliation provisions in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act apply equally to tipsters who claim retaliation after reporting internally, as well as those who are retaliated against after reporting information to the SEC. The guidance reflects that there is a split among federal courts over whether Dodd-Frank’s whistleblower retaliation provisions apply to internal as well as external reporting, and recognizes that the only circuit court to decide the issue to date, the Fifth Circuit, has taken a contrary position to that of the Commission in Rule 21F, the regulation the SEC adopted to implement the whistleblower legislation, holding that internal reports are not protected by Dodd-Frank. Whether internal reports qualify for Dodd-Frank coverage has important implications because, among other things, Dodd Frank provides enhanced recoveries (including two times back pay) and longer time frames (six years) for bringing a retaliation claim than would be available under the anti-retaliation provisions in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002.