The U.S. Securities Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) administer whistleblower claims under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. While the SEC has jurisdiction to regulate U.S. securities markets, the CFTC regulates the U.S. derivatives markets, which includes futures, swaps, and certain types of option contracts. In October, the CFTC’s Whistleblower Office (“WBO”) released its 2019 Annual Report (the “Report”) to two congressional subcommittees to provide insights into its whistleblower program and customer education initiatives. The Report provides an overview of the tips received by the WBO from October 1, 2018-September 30, 2019 (the “reporting period”), highlights several of the whistleblower awards from the past year, and discusses the WBO’s efforts to educate stakeholders about its whistleblower program. READ MORE
He also is the founder of the firm’s Whistleblower Task Force. He previously served as the Managing Director of Orrick’s Litigation Division.
Under Mike's leadership, Orrick’s Employment Law & Litigation group was recently named Labor & Employment Department of the Year in California for the fourth consecutive year by The Recorder, the premier source for legal news, in recognition of their significant wins on behalf of leading multinational companies on today’s most complex and challenging employment law matters. The practice group has also been chosen as one of the top national employment law practices by Law 360. In recognition of Mike's practice, Chambers USA and Chambers Global awarded him a Band 1 ranking, noting he is "sought out by premier clients to handle high-stakes employment litigation and investigations," and "a very persuasive advocate who knows the law inside out and is able to get to the heart of the issue very quickly."
He represents a broad range of major corporations in all facets of labor and employment law. Mike has an active trial, arbitration and appellate practice and handles a number of high-visibility class action and impact cases. Mike has extensive experience with litigation arising from trade secret misappropriation and the enforcement of post-employment restrictions, EEOC systemic investigations and litigations, wage-and-hour collective actions and other class actions based on gender and race, with particular expertise representing companies in the financial services industry.
Posts by: Mike Delikat
As states continue to pass legislation focused on the workplace, employers should be mindful that federal agencies are also continuing to regulate the workplace even in the absence of new federal legislation, especially with respect to when disputes arise regarding compensation and working conditions. Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (“Act”) arguably protects an employees’, including non-union employees’, rights to engage in concerted activities, including circumstances where an employee’s profane language or sexually- or racially- offensive speech is legally protected. Following criticism from the judiciary, the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) announced this month it is now seeking input on the scope and applicability of this protection. READ MORE
On July 16, 2019, three prominent whistleblower law regulators spoke at PLI’s Corporate Whistleblowing in 2019, 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 about their agencies’ whistleblower program’s current progress, challenges, and priorities. READ MORE
On April 29, 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) issued an opinion letter finding that “on-demand” service providers working for a virtual marketplace company are independent contractors under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
The opinion letter comes almost two years after the DOL withdrew informal guidance on independent contractors issued under the Obama administration, in which the DOL concluded that “most workers are employees under the FLSA.” The new opinion letter signals an approach more friendly to “gig economy” virtual marketplace companies (or “VMCs”), online and/or smartphone-based referral services that connect consumers with service providers providing a wide variety of services, such as transportation, delivery, shopping, moving, cleaning, plumbing, painting, and household services. READ MORE
On May 6th, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) announced that it made a whistleblower award of approximately $1.5 million to an individual whistleblower. The individual provided information that assisted in the successful prosecution of a CFTC action and a related action brought by another federal regulator. In particular, the CFTC recognized that the whistleblower initially sought to report his or her concerns internally prior to reporting to the CFTC, and it enhanced the individual’s award as an incentive.
In making the announcement, the Director of CFTC’s Whistleblower Office Christopher Ehrman explained, “While there is no requirement that a whistleblower report internally before approaching the Commission, today’s award demonstrates that the Commission may pay enhanced awards to those that do – that is one of the positive factors set out in our rules for the Commission to consider in making its award determination.” Furthermore, the CFTC recognized that the information the claimant provided “was directly incorporated into strategy involving witness interviews, and his/her early assistance saved Commission resources through his/her explanation of a complex scheme.”
Since the beginning of the CFTC’s whistleblower program in 2014, the agency has awarded more than $85 million to whistleblowers.
In February, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released its FY 2018 Annual Report and announced a record-breaking year for the agency’s whistleblower program. Overall, whistleblowers provided information that contributed to the agency’s recovery of over $1.44 billion during the course of the year. As a result, the IRS awarded $312 million in bounty awards to whistleblowers in FY2018, an almost ten-fold increase from the $33.9 million in awards it made in FY2017. Of the 217 total awards the agency made to whistleblowers in FY 2018, 31 were mandatory awards under Internal Revenue Code section 7623(b) and 186 were discretionary awards under section 7623(a) (which applies to smaller cases). The average award percentage from the total amount collected was 21.7% – up from 16.6% in FY 2016 and 17.8% in FY 2017. READ MORE
The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) announced earlier this month that it had awarded more than $2 million to an individual who provided “critical information through independent analysis of market data” contributing both to a successful CFTC action and related action brought by another federal regulator. The payout is the first of its kind for the CFTC because it is the first time the agency has awarded a whistleblower who was a company outsider. READ MORE
This article was co-authored by Omar Madhany, Associate at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP , and Mike Delikat, who co-heads the Whistleblowing Taskforce at Orrick.
On February 27, 2019, the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC)—Canada’s largest securities regulator—announced that it had awarded $7.5 million to three whistleblowers who provided tips that led to enforcement actions. (see OSC news release here). The awards are the first ever made under Ontario’s whistleblower bounty program, which was patterned closely after the bounty provisions of Dodd-Frank. While these awards are small by comparison to recent SEC bounty awards of $54 million to two whistleblowers in September 2018 and a separate composite mega-award of $83 million to three whistleblowers in a single enforcement action on March 19, 2018, nonetheless these Canadian awards have garnered significant attention and press coverage in Canada.
Last week, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) filed its first disciplinary action involving cryptocurrencies, conforming with its stated 2018 goal of monitoring and supervising the largely unregulated cryptocurrency market. FINRA’s actions reflect a long-anticipated and increased scrutiny on entities—including employers—dealing with cryptocurrency.
In the September 11 disciplinary complaint, FINRA alleged that a former Massachusetts broker, Timothy Tilton Ayre, committed securities fraud by avoiding registration requirements and selling an unregistered, cannabis-focused cryptocurrency security called HempCoin. Ayre purchased HempCoin in June 2015 and immediately advertised as “the first minable coin backed by marketable securities.” Ayre transformed the cryptocurrency into a security tied to his company, Rocky Mountain Ayre (“RMTN”), valuing each HempCoin as 0.1 shares of RMTN and trading over the counter. Investors mined over 81 million HempCoins through late 2017. However, Ayre failed to register HempCoin with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”).
FINRA’s action, coupled with recent joint statements by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) and the SEC addressing plans for heightened oversight of virtual currency regulation, reflect potential obstacles entities may face in dealing with cryptocurrency, or blockchain technology more broadly.
Growing start-ups or legacy companies with new industry sectors should be particularly mindful of the novel and transformative legal issues related to these emerging areas. For instance, although blockchain technology is generally expected to make data more secure, employers should continue to monitor their use of this technology for data privacy concerns related to information storage and programs for employment-related decisions. Further, employers should note that cryptocurrency is not currently recognized as legal tender in the United States.
The Federal Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) mandates “payments of the prescribed wages, including [minimum wage and] overtime compensation, in cash or negotiable instrument payable at par.” 29 CFR § 531.27(a). The phrase “payable at par” allows cryptocurrencies to be a lawful method of payment under the FLSA, but employers should proceed with care if considering whether to use cryptocurrency to pay employee wages, particularly due to challenges with minimum wage and overtime calculations. Indeed, the legal designation for tax purposes is also unsettled: the SEC classifies cryptocurrency as a security; the CFTC says cryptocurrency is a commodity; and since 2014, the IRS has defined cryptocurrency as taxable property.
Given these ambiguities and emerging issues, employers dealing with cryptocurrency and incorporating blockchain technology into their practices should be aware of the potential legal implications and oversight in areas beyond the traditional employment law arena.
A federal court in Connecticut recently granted summary judgment to a prospective employee on an employment discrimination claim brought under Connecticut’s Palliative Use of Marijuana Act (PUMA). The case, Noffsinger v. SSC Niantic Operating Co., LLC, d/b/a Bride Brook Nursing & Rehab. Ctr. (D. Conn. Sept. 5, 2018) adds to an evolving area of litigation regarding employees who use medical marijuana pursuant to a valid state-approved program. READ MORE