So You Want to Accept That Board Position? One More Reason to Pause: Directors Can Be Personally Liable Under Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank

On October 23, 2015, in a suit filed by Bio-Rad’s former general counsel Sanford Wadler, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California issued a decision granting in part and denying in part Defendants’ motion to dismiss in Wadler v. Bio-Rad Labs, Inc. (No. 15-CV-02356-JCS, 2015 WL 6438670 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 23, 2015), holding, among other things, that corporate directors may be held personally liable for retaliating against a whistleblower under both the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (SOX) and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 (Dodd-Frank).

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D.C. Circuit Confirms: Attorney-Client Privilege Applies to Internal Investigations of Whistleblower Complaints Conducted at the Direction of Counsel

The ability to preserve privilege for highly sensitive internal investigations conducted at the direction of attorneys is alive and well.  In a closely watched decision on the scope of the attorney-client privilege as applied to internal investigations, the D.C. Circuit granted defense contractor Kellogg Brown & Root’s (“KBR”) petition for a writ of mandamus and vacated a district court’s order that privileged documents from an internal investigation must be produced.

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Sixth Circuit Affirms $250K Victory to SOX Whistleblower and Provides Broad Interpretation of SOX

On May 28, 2015, the Sixth Circuit in Rhinehimer v. U.S. Bancorp Investments, Inc. affirmed a $250,000 jury verdict in favor of a former financial advisor for U.S. Bancorp Investments (“USBII”) who alleged that he had been terminated in violation of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (“SOX”) whistleblower provisions.  In doing so, the Sixth Circuit rejected the “definitively and specifically” standard for proving protected activity under SOX and abrogated its prior SOX decision in Riddle v. First Tennessee Bank Nat’l Assoc., 497 F. App’x 588 (6th Cir. 2012) to the extent it relied upon the standard.

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Whistle While You Work: SEC Announces First Retaliation Whistleblower Award

On June 16, 2014, the SEC issued its first-ever charge of whistleblower retaliation under section 922 of the Dodd-Frank Act, charging a hedge fund advisor and its owner with “engaging in prohibited principal transactions and then retaliating against the employee who reported the trading activity to the SEC.”

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$6 Million Verdict for SOX Whistleblower Leads to Malpractice Suit Against Defense Counsel

Playboy Enterprises is suing its former defense counsel Sheppard Mullin after being hit with a $6 million jury verdict in a SOX whistleblower case, the highest jury award in a SOX case to date.  In Zulfer v. Playboy Enterprises, Inc., Playboy’s former Controller Catherine Zulfer claimed her employment was terminated in part because she objected to an improper instruction by Playboy’s CFO to accrue $1 million in discretionary bonuses for executives when those bonuses had not been approved by Playboy’s Board.  A jury agreed and found that Playboy unlawfully retaliated against Zulfer by firing her for her protected reports under SOX and also terminated her employment in violation of public policy under California law.  The jury awarded $6 million in unspecified damages with no allocation between the SOX claim and the California wrongful termination claim.

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SEC Charges Hedge Fund Adviser with Whistleblower Retaliation under Dodd-Frank

On June 16, 2014, the SEC issued its first-ever charge of whistleblower retaliation under section 922 of the Dodd-Frank Act, charging a hedge fund advisor and its owner with “engaging in prohibited principal transactions and then retaliating against the employee who reported the trading activity to the SEC.” Read More

U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission Issues First Whistleblower Award

On Monday, May 19, 2014, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) issued its first award to a whistleblower under its Dodd-Frank bounty program.

The Commission will pay $240,000 to an unidentified whistleblower who “voluntarily provided original information that caused the Commission to launch an investigation that led to an enforcement action” in which the judgment and sanctions exceeded $1 million. The heavily redacted award determination on the CFTC’s website does not reveal the name of the implicated company, the nature of the wrongdoing involved, the percentage of bounty the whistleblower received (which is required to be between 10 and 30 percent pursuant to the statute), or the factors considered in determining the percentage of the bounty.

Prior to this first grant of an award to a whistleblower under the CFTC’s Dodd-Frank bounty program, there were 25 denials of award claims. The reasons for the denials primarily fell into one or more of several categories:

  1. the individuals provided information before the passage of Dodd-Frank;
  2. they did not file a form TCR as required by the regulations;
  3. they did not provide information “voluntarily” but rather in response to a Commission request; and/or
  4. the information did not cause the Commission to open or expand an investigation or significantly contribute to a success of a Commission matter.

Time will tell whether this first award will have any effect on the number of whistleblowers who report to the CFTC or the quality of information the Commission receives.

Babysitters at the Gate: The Supreme Court’s Radical Expansion of SOX’s Whistleblower Protections

Yesterday, in Lawson v. FMR LLC, a divided U.S. Supreme Court decided its first case addressing the whistleblower protections of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX).  The question before the Court: do those protections extend only to the employees of public companies, or do they also reach the employees of contractors and subcontractors of public companies?  You can see our prior posts on the case here (June 19, 2012), here (October 8, 2013), here (January 7, 2014), and here (January 28, 2014). Read More

Where the Whistle Blows: SEC Invites Circuit Split Over Reach of Dodd-Frank Anti-Retaliation Provision

The Securities and Exchange Commission recently weighed in on a whistleblower case pending in the Second Circuit, urging the court in Liu v. Siemens, A.G. to adopt the SEC’s interpretation of the Dodd-Frank Act’s anti-retaliation provision.  If the Second Circuit agrees, its ruling would create a circuit split over whether Dodd-Frank protects from retaliation internal whistleblowers who do not make a report to the SEC, likely teeing up the issue for resolution by the Supreme Court.   Read More

Complaint about Foreign Tax Violations Sunk Under SOX

On February 12, 2014, the Fifth Circuit in Villanueva v. U.S. Department of Labor held that an employee did not engage in protected activity under SOX when he reported alleged violations of Columbian tax laws to U.S. executives at his employer. Read More