Today the SEC announced that it is issuing a whistleblower award of over $14 million to a whistleblower who provided information that resulted in the recovery of investor funds. The significant whistleblower award comes after many critics have questioned the success of the SEC’s whistleblower award program which, to date, has only issued two much smaller awards since the program’s inception in 2011. The first award payment was issued in August 2012 for approximately $50,000. The second award, paid to three whistleblowers for information that stopped a sham hedge fund, has paid out approximately $25,000 with an expected total payout of $125,000. READ MORE
On July 17, 2013, the Fifth Circuit issued the first circuit court decision interpreting Dodd-Frank’s anti-retaliation provision. In Asadi v. G.E. Energy (USA), L.L.C., the Fifth Circuit held that, to be protected under Dodd-Frank’s anti-retaliation provision, an individual must be a “whistleblower,” which is defined by the statute as an individual who has made a report to the SEC. Notably, this holding directly conflicts with the SEC’s regulations interpreting the Act, as well as five district court decisions that had all held that employees who make internal reports to company management are protected under Dodd-Frank even if they did not make reports to the SEC. Rejecting these analyses, the Fifth Circuit based its decision on the plain wording of the statute, which it found to be unambiguous in protecting only “whistleblowers” as defined by the Act. READ MORE
In May, another New York federal district court ruled that an employee need not report a disclosure directly to the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) to be afforded the protections under the anti-retaliation provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act, but that internal disclosures within a company are covered. READ MORE
Two federal district courts recently issued decisions adopting a broad interpretation of the anti-retaliation provision of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (“Dodd-Frank”) and allowed Dodd-Frank whistleblower claims to proceed past motions to dismiss. Significantly, these cases stand for the proposition that to be protected as a whistleblower under the retaliation provision of Dodd-Frank, an individual does not have to meet the definition of a whistleblower for purposes of obtaining a bounty under Dodd-Frank and in particular, does not necessarily have to make a disclosure to the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) in the manner required in connection with the bounty provision of the statute. While the issue is far from settled as Dodd-Frank retaliation cases are just beginning to work their way through the federal courts, these decisions could contribute to further increases in the number of Dodd-Frank whistleblower retaliation claims filed against employers. READ MORE
Consistent with the mandate under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the Treasury Department issued a proposed rule that would require contractors doing business with the agency to confirm their commitment to equal opportunity in employment and contracting. The rule would amend the Department of the Treasury Acquisition Regulation to require any entity entering a contract with the agency to insert a statement in each contract that it has made affirmative efforts to include women and minorities in its workforce. If the contractor in turn enters into a subcontractor arrangement to carry out the government contract, the contractor must include the same provision in any such subcontract that has a monetary value of more than $150,000.
In addition to the specific contractual provisions, the proposed rule would provide the Treasury Department with an opportunity to request information from the contractor to demonstrate that the contractor has made a “good faith effort” to satisfy its commitment to diversity. The proposed regulation explains that the documentation that may be requested to demonstrate this “good faith effort” can include: (1) an EEO-1 report of the contractor’s employees, detailing the number of employees and the number of minority and women employees; (2) a list of subcontract awards under the contract at issue, including the dollar amount of such subcontract award, the date of the award, and the subcontractor’s race, ethnicity and gender; (3) EEO-1 data for subcontractors performing work under the contract; and (4) the contractor’s plan to ensure that minorities and women “have appropriate opportunities to enter and advance within its workforce, including outreach efforts.” Failing to comply with these obligations can result in loss of the contract. READ MORE
On August 21, 2012, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced that it has awarded its first whistleblower bounty, just over one year after the SEC’s Dodd-Frank whistleblower rules became effective. The SEC’s Claims Review Staff issued a short order, Release No. 34-67698, granting the whistleblower’s award, which notes that the SEC declined to award a claim to a second whistleblower involved in the action. READ MORE
On June 28, 2012, a Texas District Court held that the Dodd-Frank’s anti-retaliation provision per se does not apply extraterritorially. In Asadi v. G.E. Energy (USA), LLC, Case No. 4:12-cv-00345 (S.D. Tex. June 28, 2012), the district court determined that Dodd-Frank’s anti-retaliation provision did not extend to or protect the plaintiff’s extraterritorial whistleblowing activity. Note that this decision does not apply to Dodd-Frank’s whistleblower bounty provisions, pursuant to which whistleblowers outside of the U.S. may be eligible for bounties for making reports of violations to the SEC.
The complaint alleged that Asadi was a U.S.-based employee who was working from an office in Jordan to secure and manage energy contracts with the Iraqi government. Asadi alleged that he notified his supervisors and a company ombudsperson of a potential violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”), whereupon GE Energy pressured him to step down, attempted to negotiate a severance, and eventually terminated his employment.
Applying the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Morrison v. National Australia Bank, Ltd., 130 S. Ct. 2869 (2010), the district court held that the absence of language regarding the extraterritoriality of Dodd-Frank’s anti-retaliation provision led to a presumption that it did not apply extraterritorially. The district court noted that Section 929P(b) of Dodd-Frank gave extraterritorial jurisdiction over specific enforcement actions brought by the SEC or the DOJ, but not to private actions such as the plaintiff’s. The district court also found persuasive a Department of Labor Administrative Review Board en banc holding that, because Dodd Frank’s amendments to SOX were silent as to extraterritoriality, the amendments could not be construed to extend the reach of SOX extraterritorially. See Villanueva v. Core Labs, NV, 2001 WL 6981989, ARB Case No. 09-108, ALJ Case No. 2009-SOX-6 (ARB Dec. 22, 2011). Thus, the district court concluded that Dodd-Frank’s anti-retaliation provision did not protect Asadi from alleged retaliation and granted GE Energy’s motion to dismiss.
On July 9, 2012, a Southern District of New York court held that the Dodd-Frank Act applies retroactively to protect whistleblowers employed by subsidiaries of publicly-traded companies.
In Leshinsky v. Telvent GIT, S.A., Case No. 1:10-cv-04511-JPO (S.D.N.Y. July 9, 2012), the plaintiff, an employee of a non-publicly-traded subsidiary of a public company, brought a retaliation claim under Sarbanes-Oxley (“SOX”) Section 806. The plaintiff’s claims arose prior to Dodd-Frank’s amendments to Section 806 providing that no public company, including any subsidiary or affiliate whose financial information is included in the consolidated financial statements of such company, may retaliate against a whistleblowing employee.
In analyzing whether the Dodd-Frank amendment to SOX applied to the plaintiff’s claims, the court explained that generally speaking, a statute does not apply retroactively to conduct that occurred prior to a statute’s enactment; there is a presumption against retroactive legislation. When an amendment merely clarifies existing law, rather than substantively changing existing law, however, retroactivity may be appropriate. The court applied three factors to determine whether Dodd-Frank clarified Section 806: (1) whether Congress expressed legislative intent that Dodd-Frank Section 929A was a clarification that should be applied retroactively; (2) whether there was a conflict or ambiguity in the pre-amendment statutory text; and (3) whether the amendment was consistent with a reasonable interpretation of the original statute. The court determined that the Dodd-Frank amendment clarified the legislative intent of Dodd-Frank’s predecessor retaliation provision under SOX.
The court noted that the First Circuit’s April decision in Lawson v. FMR LLC, 690 F.3d 61 (1st Cir. 2012), did not preclude its holding and arguably supported its conclusion that the Dodd-Frank amendments were a necessary clarification to prevent an improper reading of the statute’s protections. See previous blog entry.